A ‘War of the Thistles’ took place on Saturday in the final Final of the West Region Cup. Ayrshire side Bonnyton Thistle took on Glasgow and District League’s Cardonald Thistle for the rights to be crowned regional champions. Cardonald were considered the underdogs following their mid-table showing in the league compared with Bonnyton’s Paisley & Johnstone District League triumph, where they secured the title without dropping a point. Despite the favourites tag, Bonnyton struggled to break down Cardonald and the boys in yellow and navy eventually came away with a 2-1 win thanks to a heroic and determined team performance – indeed one supporter noted that “No-one gave them a hope” before the match.
The rain was lashing down when the game kicked off at 2.03pm and indeed did not halt throughout the tie. This perhaps added to the fact that there was a storm brewing, with underdogs Cardonald coming out all guns blazing, urging themselves to find a way to disrupt Bonnyton early on and find a quick goal. Cardonald looked particularly dangerous on the counter attack, thanks in part to the pace of Johnny Ball up top.
Cardonald kept Bonnyton at bay for the first ten minutes with their impressive pressing but couldn’t stop what would’ve been a fantastic goal for Ewan Barrie. Following neat interplay between the midfielder, left fullback Andy Hunter and striker Steven Hill on the left flank allowed Barrie to surge in between the Cardonald full back and centre half to get onto the end of Hill’s through ball on the one-two. Barrie latched onto the pass on the edge of the box and took a touch towards goal but unfortunately for the spectators he scuffed his shot wide of the target from an angle and the danger was averted for Cardonald.
Moments later, Cardonald danger man Ball was played in on the edge of the Bonnyton area via a header but his fierce right-foot strike was equalled by Purdie from 14 yards. Ball again managed to find space in behind the Bonnyton defence five minutes later but his shot was deflected over the bar by the keeper.
Ball was still causing continual problems as he ran the channels both looking for the ball and trying to win it, with his defence and midfield and strike partner Darren Green supporting him whenever a direct long ball from the Cardonald defence went loose. Bonnyton still had the majority of possession but were finding it difficult to get in behind their opponents and cut them open, with Michael Taghe in particular sweeping up effectively.
That lack of a cutting edge would cost the double winners as Cardonald went ahead on the half hour mark. From another of Ball’s runs into the channels he won a corner on the left. From the set piece, Ciaran Mulcahy bulleted a header past the keeper to make it 1-0.
The goal allowed Cardonald to absorb a bit more pressure and look to counter attack. Bonnyton pushed forward and two minutes later almost had an equaliser. Following a goal-mouth stramash after a free kick on the right won by Sean Mears, Hill steered the ball in from inside the six yard box – only to look over to see the linesman’s flag was up and hear a dreaded screech from the ref’s whistle.
With Bonnyton flooding forward looking for an opening it naturally left them exposed at the back and if it weren’t for a brave block from Barrie inside the six yard area, Cardonald could’ve doubled their lead on 38 minutes from Green’s strong shot that looked a certainty to hit the target and maybe more.
Five minutes before time, a golden chance to equalise for Bonnyton fell at the feet of Chris Kelly. The winger timed his run well coming in off the right but from Mears’ dangerous cross to the back post, he fired over from the edge of the six yard box. Moments later Mears had a try of his own from 20 yards, only to see it fly too high also.
In the 43rd minute, Cardonald keeper Kieran McWilliams was forced into his first real save of the game and it set up a crucial counter attack. From another free kick, McWilliams made a terrific punch to both avert the danger of a goal and start a fast breal. Bole and Green faced Bonnyton’s remaining players in a 2v2 situation, with Ball picking the ball up just inside the Bonnyton half and advancing 15 yards towards goal. He opted to pull the trigger and while Purdie blocked his initial low drive, Green was there to slot the ball home with his left boot, beating both the keeper and the last defender to the rebound.
That dramatic piece of action was the last and perhaps most telling moments in the first half – leaving Bonnyton with what felt like a mountain to climb and Cardonald with a lead they looked like they could hold onto.