Skye and Lochalsh Football League Championship Playoff
Mallaig Football Club v Kyleakin Football Club
Saturday 22nd September – Broadford pitch – kickoff at 2 pm
League newcomers Mallaig face reigning champions Kyleakin in Broadford on Saturday (22nd September) with the 2018 Skye and Lochalsh Football League Championship at stake.
This season’s champions will be determined by virtue of a winner-takes-all, title-deciding playoff after both sides finished neck-a-neck on 39 points in the table – as goal difference isn’t factored in.
Mallaig secured their place in tomorrow’s showdown after recording a fantastic 4-3 away victory against Sleat and Strath in the final game of the campaign in which their goalkeeper Mark Johnston pulled off a late penalty save to seal the victory.
Kyleakin, meanwhile, took the spoils with a well-deserved 4-1 home win in their crunch match against fellow title contenders Portree Juniors thanks in part to a splendid showing by goalkeeper Craig Wilson.
With the teams having scored 168 goals between them in the league this season – *including 14 in their three encounters so far, Saturday’s match-up promises to be a fitting finale to what has been a thrilling and unpredictable campaign.
Three matches which have paved a path to the playoff
Mallaig 4-3 Gairloch/Aultbea United – Saturday 30th April
Having gone from 2-1 up to 3-2 down, the Blues rallied with goals from substitute Brett MacMillan, who drew his side level and then from Andy Cunningham who struck a late winner to seal the points.
Mallaig 3-2 Northwest Skye – Saturday 11th August
Mallaig led twice, first through Marc MacLean, and then Angus MacNaughton but were pegged by Graham Campbell’s side.
Just as it appeared a vital three points would slip through the net, Jamie MacGregor’ side struck a third in injury time as Ryan MacDonald set up Andy Cunningham for the winner.
Sleat and Strath 3-4 Mallaig – Saturday 8th September
With only a win guaranteed to keep them in the hunt, Mallaig stepped up when the pressure was on to put in an excellent away performance against DL MacKinnon’s men.
Ross Douglas scored a brace to help fire his side 4-2 ahead but Connaire Yoxon found the back of the net with a fine finish to halve their advantage.
With less than ten minutes remaining Sleat were awarded a penalty and the chance to equalise. However, despite having been beaten from the spot earlier in the match, Mark Johnston dived to his left to thwart Ben Yoxon’s effort and with it seal his side’s playoff berth.
Sleat and Strath 0-2 Kyleakin – Saturday 21st July
After succumbing to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of their rivals the week before in the Ross Cup, Kyleakin came storming back with a confidence-boosting 2-0 win which brought them right back into contention, while also ending the hosts’ unbeaten run in the league in the process. Gordy Mccarroll opened the scoring with a well-taken effort from a freekick, with Cameron Thompson scoring the second from close range.
In stark contrast to his display in the cup game the week before – which saw him earn a red card – Mccarroll put in a man of the match performance with a tireless showing and a goal to boot.
Northwest Skye 0-3 Kyleakin – Wednesday 22nd August
The south Skye side churned out an important win as they overcame a tough nut in Northwest.
Kyleakin were far from their best in the first period but a Stewart Johnston goal before the break gave them a platform to build on. Clinical second-half strikes from Innis Thompson and Gordy Mccarroll sealed a victory which had looked far from certain for large periods of the game.
Kyleakin 4-1 Portree Juniors – Saturday 8th September
With Mallaig having finished the season on 39 points, and Juniors holding a one-point advantage over the Reds going into the match, David Butcher’s side knew it was win or bust in terms of their title defence.
What followed was a fine team performance by the 2017 winners with goals from Cameron Thompson, Stuart Gillies, and a brace from Gordy Mccarroll. Their victory was punctuated by some outstanding goalkeeping by Craig Wilson – including an incredible stop to deny Juniors as they threatened to turn the tide early in the second half.
Managers’ thoughts ahead of the big game
What are your thoughts on how your team has performed this season?
Jamie MacGregor (JM) – Mallaig: “I feel our team have performed very well this year and are still learning in every game we play in this league. I’ve been impressed with the dedication shown by everyone to make sure this season went as smoothly as possible.”
David Butcher (DB) – Kyleakin: “The team has certainly had its ups and downs this year, we have been caught napping in a couple of games that most people would expect us to win, but on the flip side we have stepped up in all the big games and have only (suffered) one defeat in the league so far, so I can’t be too critical.”
“I knew after we beat Sleat that we were in pretty good shape to at least get a playoff”. – David Butcher
Did the excitement of the four-way title battle give you extra motivation?
JM: “It was great to see a four-way battle for the title but our lads needed no motivation. To be in that position was fantastic and we knew how hard the task would be against a Sleat team who themselves have had a great season this year. I have to say, it’s the most focused I’ve seen the lads and that’s including the two finals we’ve missed out on this year.”
DB: “I don’t really think it gave me the extra motivation as I don’t really look at what other teams are doing, I knew after we beat Sleat that we were in pretty good shape to at least get a playoff but I didn’t think it would be against Mallaig – so credit to them for a great run-in. Whoever comes out on top on Saturday will be worthy winners.”
Jamie, has the impact your team has made in its debut campaign taken you by surprise?
JM: “This might sound silly, but no, I was fully confident with the boys at the start of the season. Our aim was the title, although we liked keeping it too ourselves, so we could get our heads down and show what we can do on the pitch. I’ve been surprised by the diversity of the league. Every club has a completely different style and it’s not a case of setting up the same each week. We’re still learning and hopefully improving.”
David, how does trying to defend the title compare to chasing it as such?
DB: “It’s definitely a different challenge trying to defend the title as you are the team everyone wants to beat, so teams probably lift their game a wee bit against you and you have the added pressure of people’s expectations of you.”
“We really need to work out a game plan to unlock the Kyleakin code, they are the only team we haven’t managed to beat this year.” – Jamie MacGregor.
How are you approaching what is a unique occasion in that it’s a playoff?
DB: “I have always used the same approach to every game since I’ve started managing Kyleakin and I don’t see why that should change. Doing anything different could just add pressure to the boys and you’re disrupting what they are used to.”
JM: “No different than usual for us, everyone is happy to have had a weekend to prepare for the game. We really need to work out a game plan to unlock the Kyleakin code, they are the only team we haven’t managed to beat this year.”
To keep up to date with what promises to be an enthralling end to the 2018 Skye and Lochalsh Football League season, like and follow the West Highland Free Press Facebook page by clicking here.
(*The 3-0 walkover awarded to Mallaig over Kyleakin in the GF MacRae Cup semi-final tie on Saturday 15th is not included in the above stat of the matches between the teams this season which are referenced. The results from those matches are as follows: Mallaig 2-4 Kyleakin – league – 26th May; Mallaig 1-4 Kyleakin – GF MacRae Cup Final – 9th June, and Kyleakin 2-1 Mallaig – league – 4th August.
Article by Adam Gordon
All images by Willie Urquhart.