The game kicked off for the final instalment of the weekend’s County Finals at the Livingston FC Stadium and even though the turn-out was fairly low there was a good atmosphere as the game got underway. After a couple of through balls behind the Dunipace defence, Bathgate tried to play it out wide through James McGrane the captain to Mark Drummond on the right wing and were awarded a free kick 30 yards from goal when play came back inside.
Liam Allison stepped up and walloped a left footed pile-driver swinging high and dipping and it looped and tucked itself out of reach in the right hand corner of the goal to make it one nil to Bathgate with just four minutes on the clock. It was a fantastic goal to start to the game.
The next opportunity arrived a couple of minutes after the restart when Drummond linked up with Jack McLaren who crossed only for it to ricochet off of Dunipace’s Murray Smith into the path of Allison who couldn’t quite bring it under the control needed to set up the shot.
Bathgate continued to probe for the next few minutes and when McGrane’s long, cross-field ball located Drummond deep it was unlucky to be called offside. The first real opportunity of the game for Dunipace followed shortly after when Andrew Meade slotted it through for Callum McRae but the goalkeeper for Bathgate Gary Thomas was alert and was out quickly to clear it high and long.
Darren Swords looked to get a hold of the ball in the centre for Dunipace and start a patient style of build-up play, waiting for the right moment and playing an incisive pass forward into the attackers’ feet. However McGrane was defining a good role in front of the defence linking up the attack for Bathgate and on fifteen minutes he received a good ball from Allison out on the left and pushed forward to win a corner. Unfortunately it went over everyone and out long behind the goal.
Then Dunipace began to make in-roads down the left on a few occasions but on a break from one Bathgate’s Alistair MacArthur took the ball down around a defender in front of him, keeping the pace on the bounce and then hooked a superb half-volley at a stretch, fast towards the goal and it bent flat and fast and crashed against the inside of the post with the diving keeper Taylor Jackson just reaching across and taking the pace off it. It came down and ran along the goal front and everyone gasped in awe at the shot and in amazement at the proximity to making it two nil.
On twenty minutes, Ryan Shanks had begun foraging forward for Dunipace on the left but Jack McLaren had been resilient and set the tone early on with a big challenge at the byline before clearing the ball out for an attack to start through McGrane at pace again.
Dunipace were getting territory now but Bathgate had a well organised defence, Jordan Bryce collecting and from McGrane again play moved forward speedily between back and front and Bryce took a wicked shot that the goalie Jackson left calmly but it only just went wide surely, it was a mean strike.
Nearing the half hour, Bathgate went close with a chance as Bryce played in Drummond who took it into the area, backed up his defender before going round him to the inside byline and pulling back a lobbed cross which Bryce got to with his head but it looped high and over.
Now MacArthur picked it up on the left inside the opponents half for Bathgate, he turned and ran and went past a couple of players drifting off towards the right and into the area where he pulled the trigger with venom and the ball whistled past the left post.
There was a last ditch challenge shortly after on Zak Raymen in the Bathgate box and it was cleared following what was excellent defending the defender putting his foot solidly on the ball. However, Dunipace came back at Bathgate and it was Raymen again who got in behind the defence and pulled it back to create a goal-mouth scramble with McRae nearly knocking it in but the Bathgate defence was alert again.
It seemed as though Bathgate were getting weary of the prolonged pressure from Dunipace, Swords floating in a free kick to McRae at the far post with a good nicely controlled first time cushioned volley back across goal which was not rewarded with the result it deserved and found the keeper Thomas’ hands.
The game swung this way and that with Bathgate now unable to stay long up the field but remaining concentrated and retaining their discipline as conversely Dunipace were getting frustrated that their efforts weren’t paying off and began conceding needless and niggly fouls. A deep cross came in from the right boot of captain Ruari Gillespie now with shape and rise on it and Shanks looked then to get a long throw into the area shortly afterwards, but still the danger didn’t alight with a goal.
McGrane played a long ball wide and right and Bryce collected it and drilled it fast into the box, Drummond gets to it but can’t direct it in the crowded area and the goalie Jackson picks it up and throws out. Then two balls left the stadium, which was to become quite a theme throughout the match at one point everyone stood around wondering if there were anymore left!
But on thirty eight minutes, now with a ball, McGrane raced clear out of defence still the pivot his team was turning on and lightening getting it out and way up field away from the area and danger. Then some long ball play scattered with direct passing followed between the sides and a chase on goal from Bryce but it was creeping towards half time as an attack followed an attack and finally after a corner won by Ross Balmer for Dunipace came in from Swords saw Greg McAuslan crowded out of a header, the referee blew for the end of the first half.