After a thrilling cup final, Hutchison Vale walked away victorious after deafeating Shotts YMCA. It was a wonderful advert for youth football, with each team showcasing a great set of skills that kept that crowd entertained from the first minute to the last.
The opening 10 minutes of the game was understandably edgy, with neither team giving away too much, so it descended into an entertaining midfield tussle with a few long shots that did not work either keeper. Gradually though, Shotts grew into the game and began to dominate. First Gary McGeough controlled a free kick and played the ball smartly along the ground to Greg Murray, whose first-time shot flew narrowly by the post.
However, this pressure lead to some opportunities for Hutchison to counter, and the first warning came when Kieran Young won the ball back firmly on the halfway line. The Shotts players protested that a free kick should have been given, but with no whistle Young drove forward quickly and shot just wide from the edge of the box.
Minutes later, after that scare, Hutchison Vale scored. A goal kick from Shotts was headed back downfield by Young, and the bouncing ball caused chaos among the Shotts defence. Ryan Fox was first onto the ball, sneaking in behind the centre back and controlling the ball, before chipping the keeper from close range. It was a swiftly taken goal, met with great celebrations from the fans on the touchline.
From here on in though Shotts set the pattern of play, closing down well at every opportunity and really making the most of any space on the flanks. As always though, Vale's Arran Currie was a great outball, looking to latch onto any long clearance from the defence.
Shotts began to apply serious pressure in the last 15 minutes of the first half, pushing up high and forcing Hutchison Vale to commit a series of fouls, some in very dangerous positions.
A high ball downfield was partially controlled by McGeough, who was subsequently fouled just on the edge of the box. Up stepped Kerr Fraser, who set his sights on goal and was only denied a spectacular free kick by the outstretched fingers Byron Gibb, who tipped the ball onto the bar and saved a certain goal. A fantastic save from the young keeper, managing to keep his team in the game.
Hutchison Vale did not learn their lesson though, and gave away another foul after some lovely interplay from McGeouch and Fraser, forcing Vale players to dive in. The freekick, again taken by Fraser, was considerably lower this time and deflected just wide from the wall.
Hutchison Vale had a chance to counter though, only for Luke Brown to make a great slide tackle and win the ball back on the halfway line. He controlled the loose ball and played it long downfield, sensing the run from McGeough. The ball bounced dangerously, leaving the forward one-on-one with the keeper but he stood firm and just managed to get a touch to the ball before a collision between the pair.
With the first half drawing to a close, Hutchison Vale still could not escape their half. Another foul was conceded just before the whistle, after Shaun O'Donnell was brought down after a one-two with McGeough put him into space. The free kick from Fraser this time was a teasing one, played in from the right side and across the face of goal. With players from both teams stretching for the ball it just needed a touch to find the equaliser; but unfortunately for Shotts it rolled out of play.