Premiership: Kinlochshiel 3, Lochaber 2
A relieved Kinlochshiel put two valuable points on the scoreboard with a 3-2 home win over Lochaber on Saturday — only their second league victory out of the seven games Shiel have played in the premiership so far this season.
With both teams desperate for a win — Lochaber had picked up just the one point from their previous three games — this was always going to be a nervy affair. And so it proved.
Shiel were without Paul MacRae who suffered a broken arm against Lovat a week earlier, and his place at full back was taken over by Mark MacDonald. The three MacRae brothers made up the rest of the spine of the team — Finlay at half back, John at full centre and Keith at full forward. And there was a youthful look about the home line-up which featured teenagers Ali and Donald Nixon, Conall Fraser and Ewan Falconer, as well as Ali “Dooncie” MacRae.
Lochaber, too, made some enforced changes. Regular goalkeeper Calum MacDonald, out with a recurring knee problem, was replaced by Bryn Whittaker, while Ben Delaney, Iain Love and Kevin and Zandz Ferguson were also missing, although Martin Johnstone returned following suspension.
Shiel keeper Scott Kennedy had to make an early save at the expense of a corner, and shortly afterwards he made a good stop from a close-range effort by Shaun Nicolson. After around a quarter-hour Ali Nixon went close for Shiel with a fine strike following a corner, and shortly afterwards a Keith MacRae shot was deflected behind. Another Keith MacRae drive in the 25th minute struck the outside of the keeper’s right-hand upright, but Whittaker appeared to have it covered.
With 26 minutes played the home side put together a lovely flowing move. As they broke forward Keith MacRae sent a well-judged flick to his left for the onrushing wing centre Oliver MacRae, but keeper Whittaker came off his line quickly to clear the danger.
Two minutes later, however, Whittaker was unable to prevent the home side taking the lead. A free hit on the right of the area was squared by John MacRae to his brother Keith who took it first-time to put a powerful drive past the keeper.
Shiel’s advantage stood for less than three minutes. Danny Delaney won a challenge with Mark Macdonald out on the right and drove the ball into the path of Stuart Callison who ran on to flick the ball beyond Scott Kennedy into the far corner of the net.
With both defences at times looking uncertain, further goals seemed likely and with six minutes remaining until the interval Shiel regained the lead. A shot was only half-cleared by Whittaker, and Ali MacRae reacted quickest to slam the ball home.
Lochaber tried to respond before half time, and Nicolson created an opening when he squeezed his way past a couple of defenders but then mishit his shot which flew well wide of the target.
Hitting up the slope in the second half, Shiel opened with an attacking flurry. Ali Nixon chased a lost cause and stopped the ball on the byeline before cutting it back to Oliver MacRae. His shot was half-cleared, MacRae won the ball back and put a shot on target which was parried by Whittaker and Ali MacRae running in just failed to get a touch. Then, from a shy on the left, Keith MacRae allowed the ball to bounce once before firing it just wide.
Up at the other end Delaney flashed two shots past goal in as many minutes. Then came a turning-point. With just over 50 minutes played Shaun Nicolson appeared to be brought down as he drove towards goal and, despite Shiel’s protests, referee Innes Wood pointed to the spot. Nicolson himself took the penalty and struck it hard and low, but keeper Kennedy was able to make the save with his feet.
Shiel went close again when Keith MacRae cleverly dropped the ball over full back Lachie Campbell, but Whittaker was out quickly to prevent Ali MacRae getting there first. And with 58 minutes played the home side grabbed an important third goal. From a free hit on the edge of the area John MacRae slipped the ball to his brother Keith wide on the right and he cut it back for Duncan “Ach” MacRae who almost casually drilled it beyond the keeper for 3-1.
As Lochaber pushed for a way back into the game Mark MacDonald made a good recovery after initially losing out to Delaney, and keeper Kennedy had to be alert to turn the ball behind with wing forward Hugh Innes bearing down on him.
Both side made changes for the final 20 minutes. For Shiel, David Falconer — just recovered from a broken collarbone — and Neil Fraser went on in place of Ali Nixon and Ali MacRae; the visitors replaced Nicolson and Pat Toal with Ryan Johnstone and Duncan MacKinnon.
The home subs were soon in the thick of the action, and Falconer went close with a shot after he battled hard along with Fraser to win the ball from the experienced Lachie Campbell.
There were further changes of personnel, with Graham Morrison taking over at wing forward for Shiel in place of Duncan “Ach” MacRae and Nicolson returning for Lochaber at the expense of Delaney.
Lochaber were desperate to find a way back into the game, and with six minutes remaining they got a foothold when Nicolson unleashed a screamer of a shot which left Kennedy helpless. However, that goal proved too little, too late for the visitors as the only other meaningful strike at goal came at the other end when Keith MacRae glided past Campbell on the left but drove the ball beyond the far post.
With so much at stake for both sides, this was largely a scrappy affair in which nerves were in evidence throughout and flowing shinty was at a premium. But it was exciting stuff for the spectators, and a satisfactory outcome for the vocal home support.