A solitary Kieran Ross strike sparked celebrations for St. John’s High School as they beat Bannerman High 1-0 in the final of the SSYFA Shield Final at Hampden Park on Friday.
The scoreline did not accurately reflect the match as St John’s dominated from almost the first whistle and but for some inspired goalkeeping from Bannerman’s Ross Eliott they could have reached double figures.
With the final returning to Scotland’s national stadium for the first time in five seasons, it was almost certainly the biggest occasion that many of the players will have played in and both teams brought vocal support to encourage their sides. There were blue skies overhead as Glasgow saw its best weather in many months and the stage was set for an enthralling final.
Nerves perhaps took control in the early stages with misplaced passes and heavy tackles aplenty as both sides struggled to find their rhythm.
St. John’s Connor Coupe was the first player to have a sight of goal as he cut in from the left wing and dragged an effort wide of the near post - a warning to Bannerman about the talent this young player possesses.
Bannerman had a similar opportunity of their own through Jonny Cartwright on the right side, but he didn’t have as much luck getting by Taylor Carroll and the defender got in a tackle and clearance.
It was to be Bannerman’s best chance for a while. After the opening few minutes passed, the game settled down in favour of the fast-moving, slick passing St. John’s. They pressed high up the pitch, using Craig Adamson as a target man to hold the ball up, the St. John’s man having a height and power advantage on the majority of the Bannerman defence. When he did win the ball it gave Ross the chance to break through from midfield - something he would do with alarming ease throughout the game, including for the first goal.
Having survived a scare when Dariush Hejazian tried to let the ball run back to Eliott, almost letting Kieran Conway slip in, the Bannerman defence was exposed shortly after and Ross drove through before firing low and hard across Eliott. Somehow, it was the only time the Bannerman keeper would be beaten as he produced a string of fine saves to keep his side in the match.
A quick St. John’s break left the Bannerman defence isolated and outnumbered, Coupe slipped it through to Nathan Scott whose goalbound effort was acrobatically pushed on to the bar by Eliott.
Then Adamson’s fantastic diagonal ball put Ross one-on-one with the stopper only for Eliott to save at his feet.
St John’s were playing with time and space in the gap between Bannerman’s defence and midfield, sometimes inside the Bannerman box as they forced the defence to sit virtually on the penalty spot while they passed across.
On one such occasion Ross fired a low effort off the foot of Eliott and over the bar, the keeper surviving on sheer instinct and good fortune. The resulting corner was headed goalbound by the colossus Adamson, but again Bannerman survived, this time the ball beat Eliott but was headed clear off the line by Zak Ford.
The Glasgow side were not without the odd opportunity themselves and Mitchell Barclay’s deep free-kick found a free header from Cameron Foy, but the centre-half put it narrowly wide.
Then some fantastic link-up play between Ford and Sean Hughes, probably the best of the match for Bannerman, saw Ford win the challenge for a long ball, play through Hughes who returned the ball to Ford in space, but the winger’s shot was well saved by Robbie Telford.
It was a fairly brief spell on top for Bannerman and St. John’s ended the half with more opportunities and more missed chances to seal the game, with Bannerman having Foy to thank on several occasions for offering a physical presence to match Adamson, winning headers from corners and refusing to be bullied off the ball.