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The Astro-turf pitch at Ralston Community Centre avoided the water-logged fate of footballing venues up and down the country this week, allowing this match between Everton YFC and Langcraigs BC to take place in the early afternoon. Good thing it did, too, as it was to become the scene of one of the season’s more spectacular fight-backs.
Bottom-placed Langcraigs were clearly intent on picking up some precious away points from the get-go, and they made the best possible start: roughly 30 seconds separated the opening whistle and Craig McAlpine netting his team’s first. The number four rounded off a ruthlessly efficient passage of play by rounding Everton goalkeeper Ben Stevenson and slotting home.
If Stevenson was looking for respite, he wasn’t accommodated by a Langcraigs strike force that was far from happy to settle for a one-goal lead. The ‘keeper would be tested three more times before 10 minutes had been played – twice he went to ground and collected the ball well, but Langcraigs’ final early opportunity would see them go 2-0 up. Marc Irvine capitalised on a defensive error to take possession in Everton’s penalty box, and place the ball high into the net, proving that the first strike had been no fluke: this was a visiting side who had found top form.
Both goalscorers remained a threat throughout the first half, and you wouldn’t have betted against either of them doubling their tally. For Everton’s part, Conor Hannigan’s supply line into the danger area looked like their most likely means of pulling one back: I lost count of the amount of times Langcraigs’ goalie Grant McKenzie had to pluck his high crosses out of the air, and on the single occasion the number one wasn’t equal to Hannigan’s delivery, a Richard Wereski diving header was just inches away from punishing him with a goal.
The tempo dropped in the middle of the half, which is likely to have pleased only the winning team’s manager. There were plenty of fierce midfield battles to be found between the 20- and 30-minute mark, but the only goalmouth action of note was when Andrew Gouldie shot past his opposing ‘keeper and into the goal, only to be ruled offside. The difficult angle allowed this reporter to sit on the fence with regards to whether he had, indeed, succumbed to the offside trap.
Everton’s repeated unsuccessful forays into the Langcraigs half were becoming a pattern at this point. Criticism can perhaps be levelled at the side for continuing to pursue the long-ball route when Langcraigs centre halves Alexander Reid and Dean McWilliams had proven themselves so adept at clearing headers and important tackles: the pair soaked up the Blues’ pressure and used their hard-won possession to launch counter-attacks. One such attack, in fact, led to Marc Irvine finding the ball at his feet just outside the Everton penalty area. The striker made no mistake, drilling it low and scoring to give Langcraigs a three goal lead, and surely – surely – the initiative to win the game.
If the first two goals had come in the run of play, however, that third had not. Everton were unlucky to find themselves at a deficit of three with half time fast approaching, and they knew it. Spurred on by this, and still smarting from their controversial chopped-off strike, they took one back in the final minute of first half when Dean McGoldrick cut in from the right to blast the ball off the left-hand post. It bounced in, to the delight and relief of the spiritual Scousers’ players and management.
Half Time: Everton YFC 1-3 Langcraigs BC
Everton started the second half with a newfound attacking mentality, and when Christopher Fletcher scored low from outside the box in the 50th minute, Langcraigs must’ve felt just how precarious their 3-2 lead was. The team in yellow’s defence, rock solid in the first half, were now being tested constantly with penetrating passes, and their danger area was suddenly the place to be if you’re a fan of urgent, panicked clearances. Jordan Anderson, Craig McAlpine and Jordan Duffy relieved the pressure intermittently with inventive passing play into Everton’s half, but the attacking momentum of the match seemed to have swung in the Toffees’ favour.
Still, all credit to Langcraigs. After the quick double they conceded either side of half time, the side managed to keep enough of a stranglehold on the game to stay in front until the 74th minute. It was Andrew Gouldie who would end their lead – teed up in the box by Dean McGoldrick, he rattled home the equaliser past McKenzie, who had played far too well to have conceded three in a fair world.
Everton, however, had acquired the taste for blood, and the match had the feeling of one which could still provide a few goals in the 16 remaining minutes. Ben Stevenson’s goal was tested by two free kicks from close range, and Craig McAlpine was put through to a one-on-one with him, but he met both dead balls confidently, and cleared before McAlpine could take it past him.
These moments of away pressure were the exception, rather than the rule, and Everton hit top gear in the final 10 minutes. On 83 minutes, defender Shaun Harkin scored a long-range net-buster to give his team the lead, and the performance was seen out by further goals from Dean McGoldrick – slotting past the ‘keeper on 86 minutes – and Ciaran Crawford – capitalising on the goalkeepers spill in the final moments of the half.
That Everton had scored six without reply, having been three goals down, was testament to their change in attitude during the middle of the game, and proof that attacking football can be effective, as well as looking nice. Langcraigs will be disappointed to have let their lead slip, but their top quality first half performance showed that they can put in the kind of performance that will see them move up the league table, provided that they can keep their concentration and defensive mettle.
Full Time: Everton YFC 6-3 Langcraigs