The fourth round of the John McConnell Memorial Cup looked guaranteed to provide one of the ties of the weekend between a high flying Hutchison Vale and an impressive Spartans Whites side at Under 15’s level and it did not disappoint.
The match was played at a high tempo from the start and early Hutchison Vale pressure nearly paid off within the opening five minutes when Bruno Davidson checked in from the left flank and let fly with a looping effort that crashed off the underside of the bar. Spartans number one Dylan Tas watched on as the ball bounced to safety on this occasion, but this was to be the beginning of an impressive duel between the two players.
A few minutes later and Hutchison Vale were on the front foot again. A clever through ball from Lewis Foster released Davidson down the left again but Tas was quickly off his line to narrow the angle and force Davidson’s effort across goal and out for a goal kick.
With increasing Hutchison Vale pressure mounting on the Spartans defence, the impressive Malik Zaid slipped Davidson through once more. On this occasion he got the better of Tas by skipping around the keepers challenge only to watch Daniel Conafray make a heroic goal line clearance to keep the game goalless.
10 minutes later and Hutchison Vale created an identical chance once again for Davidson, although in similar fashion to the previous efforts Tas was alert and quickly off his line to make a smart save and turn Davidson’s effort wide for a corner.
From the resulting corner Spartans had cleared the danger well before some smart build up play opened some space for Keir Brown to attempt a curling effort from the edge of the box, but yet again Spartans crossbar came to the rescue.
After weathering the initial storm Spartans began to get a foothold in the game and began to cause a few problems of their own. Ryan Turner was fouled by Aaron McKie out on the left flank and from the resulting set-piece the former put in a delightful cross which found Logan Ritchie unmarked but he could only put his free header over the bar.
Hutchison Vale's Zaid was becoming increasingly influential in the middle of the park and this time set left back Danny Chisholm galloping down the left flank who also rounded the brave Tas in the Spartans goal only to see the ball agonisingly trickle out of play before he could reach it.
Spartans hit back with an attack of their own when the energetic Ritchie used his body well to shield the ball and then run at full-back Chisholm who he initially beat before a great recovery from the left back meant that Ritchie and his side had to settle for a corner.
From the resulting corner, Hutchison Vale dealt with the danger and launched a lightening counter attack where Jake Houton was hauled down on the edge of the Spartans box. Davidson's delivery was met by Jacob Comerford who was disappointed to see his header travel inches past the near post.
With the half drawing to a close, the game became end to end with chances a plenty. For the first time in the cup tie Spartans had picked the lock of the resolute Hutchie defence and a defence splitting pass seen Luke Fyvie race through on goal but a slightly heavy touch allowed Lucas McGarry in the Hutchie to close the Spartans number seven down and make a smart save before smothering the ball at the second attempt.
The last action of the first half provided the highlight of the half. A moment of brilliance from two players that summed up the opening 40 minutes perfectly. The elusive Davidson twisted and turned from two, then three white shirts before unleashing a wicked shot from 25 yards that was flying towards the top left hand corner of the net. A superb stop from the excellent Tas ensured that the teams were level at the break and also gave warning to Hutchison Vale that it would take something special to beat him.