Beautiful sunshine rained down on Grange Academy's Third Generation AstroTurf when Crosshouse Boys Club 1998s welcomed Mill United Colts 98s. Crosshouse are my local team effectively, as they play a stone's throw away from my house - well when they play on the grass. I was down reporting at one of their Mill Utd were a team a bit unknown to me, as they are based in Hamilton. However, as a player and a coach, I have faced Mill teams plenty of the times in the last and they usually have great teams. Their league form backed up this hypothesis. All pointed to a cracking match ahead. Firstly, they respectfully observed a moments silence for the tragic Clutha helicopter crash that occurred in the late hours of Friday night (November 29th 2013) that had claimed the lives of at least eight. After that though, the Grange estate was filled with battle cries as both teams attempted to psyche themselves up for their biggest match of the season so far. I have had a knack of picking my games well this season, as they always have been exciting. This one was no different, and it was end to end football through out...
David McSorely almost got his team off to a flier within forty-five seconds. He latched onto a long ball and drove at the defence. His power and footwork were nimble and this allowed him to cut inside and let rip from twenty five yards. The dipping effort looked to be heading in but goalkeeper Ryan Lawrie leapt across acrobatically to tip the ball wide. A smart stop indeed . From the resulting Alexander Bell corner, Graeme Condon headed the ball back across the face of goal but it was cleared off the line before Connor Cunnigham could tap home.
Crosshouse had started the better side in the opening ten minutes. They had gotten in behind the defence all too often. They had won six corners in the time period. Lawrie had to be sharp off of his line to smother a dinked through ball from Connor Cunningham to prevent McSorely from being presented with the easiest of chances, that a player of his calibre would easily finish.
However, twelve minutes into the game it was Mill who had created the best chance so far. A superb cross in from the right found the head of Connor Quinn and he met the header sweetly and it looked to be rocketing into the bottom corner. Only a superb save from Robbie Wilson kept the deadlock in tact. Not for the first time this season had I witnessed the keeper use his outstanding agility to the fullest potential.
Not being a team to hold back, Crosshouse cranked up the pressure on the back of Wilson's save. Reece Cunnigham - Connor's older brother, as Connor is technically a 99 born - hit a speculative drive from thirty yards. I say speculative, but it was worth a go, and Lawrie did well to hold the powerful effort with strikers following the ball in.
From a free kick a few moments later, left back Paul Millar sent a free kick a foot or so over Lawrie's crossbar.
That brought the game up to the twenty-five minute mark. The match was being played at a hundred miles an hour, a true magical Cup Tie that was living up to its expectations. There was a big support of people from both sides, and to the North of the pitch (but outside the ground) a group of youngsters set off pyrotechnics. This forced the referee to hold up play for a few minutes as they were asked to stop for fear of distracting any players.
The delay did nothing to stop the end to end action however. What I'd say was the best chance of the game so far came the way of Crosshouse. Reece Cunnigham broke away on the left wing, and his pin-point cross picked out McSorely. The ex-Ayr United striker had ghosted into the back post and was presented with a free header. Perhaps he took his eye off of the ball at the last moment, as the 'complete forward' screwed a chance wide, and I know he'd normally eat chances like that for breakfast.
Mill countered immediately though. A long ball was superbly controled by Dylan Hayes. He nutmegged a defender and raced in on goal; and just as he was about the pull the trigger, a superb last ditch slide tackle from Millar denied a certain goal.
The next chance came the way of the red-and white's talismanic left back. Another dangerous corner by Ethan Tasker this time was met by Millar, but Lawrie held the ball well.
The keeper's long throw found the red and black shirt of Quinn. Picking the ball up at the half way line he sped away in a Carlos Tevez esque manner. Piling driving his way through wave after wave of defenders, Quinn cut the ball back for his strike partner Hayes at the back post, but it was cut out at the last moment.
Half time drew near, and still the end to end action continued. McSorely went closest out of anyone that had tried so far. A deep cross from Tasker floated in from the right: McSorely won the challenge with his marker and sent a powerful header crashing back off of the crossbar. The danger was not quite clear though, as the rebound was blasted back at goal by Bell, but Lawrie was again equal to it.
The game was then delayed a few minutes as the goalkeeper, superb in his handling and distribution, went down with an injury. Further still, the pyrotechnics gang were told to vacate the pitch, for apparently abusing the Mill keeper. Sadly this takes away any sort of fun coming to a game like in a big crowd, and I know the referee made the correct call in asking them to leave.
Tactically, the delay benefited the Hamilton side because they found themselves 1-0 within seconds of the restart. With Crosshouse applying the pressure up until the delay, it was again perhaps against the run of play that Mill broke the deadlock. A long ball from right wing- back Steven Gemmell found Quinn. With the defence static, it was all to easy for the pacey striker to ghost into the box. Further still, it was all to easy for Hayes to strut into the box, receive a cut back and slot home, right on the stroke of half-time - a killer blow for the home side; that old cliché, its the best time to score. However, a great finish nonetheless from the youngster.