A bright July evening on the astroturf at Lochaber high school on Tuesday 25th July provided excellent conditions for football as Sleat and Strath travelled to face Fort William Reserves in the Ross cup quarter final, a match that was rescheduled after a road closure the previous week.
The game was well attended by a vocal home support, buoyed by their team’s improving form.
Ross Cup holders Sleat came into the match after increasing the gap at the top of the WHAFA league table in their previous match, a 5-1 against Portree maintaining their 100 per cent league form.
However, the game did not start as the neutral might have expected when Ryan Wilson finished after bursting through on the counter attack and finishing well from a cross into the box, making it 1-0 to Fort William.
Sleat looked shell shocked and took some time to find their feet. With talisman Ben Yoxon injured it was up to the rest of the lineup to assert themselves.
They found themselves winning free kick after free kick, more than ten in the first twenty minutes, but were unable to take full advantage of their opportunities.
Fort William’s tenacity in the tackle, which their free-kicks-conceded-count highlighted, was coupled with quality on the ball and they were more than a match for Sleat until, on 32 minutes, it was one dangerous set-piece too many.
Connaire Yoxon struck a curled shot against the post and after the ball rebounded off Fort William goalkeeper Bradley Cameron, it was tapped home by John Gillies to make it 1-1.
The home bench were convinced the free kick shouldn’t have stood given that referee Angie Campbell had played an advantage first. Keeper Cameron took his protests too far and was sent off for dissent, leaving midfielder Robbie Rydings to take his place in goal and reduce the home side to ten players.
The score was 1-1 at half time and although the ten men of Fort ended the half well, Sleat would still have been confident of progressing to the semi-final, given their numerical advantage and superior recent form.
However, the second half would again start badly for the Skye side as Fort William scored a free kick of their own, Dave Forbes curling a beauty into the top corner from almost the exact same spot as Yoxon’s first half strike to make it 2-1 to the underdogs.
Things were not going to plan for the cup holders.
Fort William had a lead to hold onto and played out of their skins for the rest of the 90 minutes, arguably performing better with ten men in this game than they often have with eleven this season.
While both sides had more than one clear cut chance to alter the scoreline, when the full time whistle blew the score remained 2-1 to Fort William, who progress to face Mallaig in the semi-final of the Ross cup on the 1st of August.
WEST HIGHLAND LEAGUE
Sleat maintain 100 per cent league record
The WHAFA league returned to action last weekend with matches featuring all eight teams having big consequences for the top of the table.
Portree welcomed league leaders and reigning champions Sleat and Strath to the King George V Park on Friday, following two tough home matches against Kyleakin, the most recent of which saw them dumped out of the Ross cup by the Southend side the previous Tuesday.
The prospect of facing Sleat after a demoralising defeat might not have been a welcome one but despite the final scoreline, the young home side competed well in large spells of the game.
Sleat have not lost in the league yet and with the other title chasers, North West Skye and Mallaig, facing each other the following day they knew a win would put pressure on their rivals.
The match was even for the first half hour as Sleat struggled to impose themselves on the match and Portree’s blend of youthful energy and wily experience kept them at bay.
However, on 38 minutes Connaire Yoxon opened the scoring with a stunning improvised volley following a Sleat corner to make it 1-0.
As the goal breathed life into Sleat so it demoralised Portree and before half time there were two more goals. Cameron MacLeod pounced on a loose ball in the box to make it 2-0 on 41 minutes and on the stroke of half time Robin Harvey headed home a Ben Yoxon throw in, making it 3-0 at the interval.
Portree remained competitive and the hosts pulled a goal back thanks to an exquisite 30-yard drive from Nick Spencer after 70 minutes.
Sleat added to their lead on 80 minutes as Cameron MacLeod got his second and Sleat’s fourth to make it 4-1, before a late goal from Mike Dunn, his first for Sleat, put the gloss on the result and made it 5-1 at full time.
Sleat player-coach Ben Yoxon said: “The game was tough, Portree are a really good side and have been unlucky on a lot of occasions this season not find themselves picking up more points. They’re well organised and good technically, so it was an important win.
Next up, Sleat face Fort William in the league (5th of August) while Portree face a league match against Kyle (4th August).
KYLEAKIN DOMINATE DERBY
Kyleakin made it three wins on the bounce in emphatic fashion last Friday, putting seven goals past Kyle in a dominant result away from home.
While the result was resounding and Kyleakin’s quality shone through as the match progressed, the first half was a close contest – something of a familiar story for Kyle who have often competed well for 45 minutes before fading in the second period.
The home side were rewarded with two goals for their hard work through a Stephen MacDonald header from a corner and another goal from David MacAskill, who has impressed in midfield for Ryan Grant’s team this year.
Kyleakin have been in resurgent form over the last month and once they began firing as the game went on, they scored seven of their own through Oliver MacRae (3), Keith MacKenzie (2), Fraser Reid and Bodhan Campbell, making the final score 7-2 to David Butcher’s side.
The Kyleakin manager said: “The game was a pretty good run out. We made it difficult for ourselves in the first half but the chances kept coming so I wasn’t too worried – with the quality we had I knew the goals would come.
“It was yet another game where all the subs got at least 30 minutes which is pleasing and the goalscorers all played well – Bodhan Cambell was really impressive in his first start of this season, Fraser Reid continued his fine form with a well-deserved goal, Keith MacKenzie’s double showed how important he still is to Kyleakin.
“Oliver MacRae grabbed himself a hat-trick with some great midfield running.”
Kyle travel to Portree in the league on the 4th of August, while next up for Kyleakin is one of the toughest away games on the fixture list in the shape of Mallaig this Saturday, before they take on Portree Juniors in the Ross Cup semi-final on Tuesday.
Butcher added: “It’s looking like we are a few short for Saturday with Belladrum and a couple of other things, but we should be as close to full strength as we can be for the semi on Tuesday. Aaron MacBeth is suspended and we have a couple of late fitness tests to sort out but with Juniors on good form it should be a decent game.”
MALLAIG SALVAGE A POINT
North West Skye and Mallaig had faced off four times already this season coming into Saturday’s match, winning two games each.
Both teams knew if they were to keep pace with league leaders Sleat & Strath then victory was needed, but a draw helped out nobody but the current table toppers.
After a goalless first half and a stuffy game which saw Mallaig miss a penalty as well as having a goal disallowed, it would be North West Skye who took the lead midway through the second half. Cameron Campbell, a consistent player maintaining his good form this season, scored with an impressive header after a cross from deep.
NWS missed chances to make victory certain and paid the price in stoppage time when Michael Doherty, with the last kick of the game, prodded home after a stramash in the box to score his first goal for Mallaig and snatch a 1-1 draw.
Mallaig manager Jamie MacGregor told the Free Press. “It was a really tough game. I felt we were unlucky, missing a penalty and having a goal chopped off but North West had chances in the game too so it’s hard to complain. It was a big goal for us at the end from Michael Doherty.
“We’ll definitely look forward to some home games now as we’ve been on the road a lot, so three home games in a row is a positive for us.”
Next up for both teams is a resurgent Kyleakin when they face Mallaig (29th July) and North West Skye (4th August).
JUNIORS EDGE FORT
Portree Juniors made it seven wins in their last eight matches with victory over Fort William.
Both sides were able to field strong starting elevens in what was a stuffy, hot day at the Lochaber High School pitch. Juniors again opted to play a young back four, something that had served them well over their last three matches as they have progressed in the Ross Cup and maintained third place in the league.
The opening exchanges of the game were even, Paul MacKinnon having the best chance but shooting off target after a burst from midfield on 20 minutes.
Ten minutes later, the in-form midfielder redeemed himself in stunning fashion, rifling home a volley from 25 yards to make it 1-0 to the Juniors.
The goal sucked the life out of Fort William who defended resolutely for the rest of the half but without creating anything of note.
The second half produced more of the same with both teams desperate for the win but trying to achieve it in a scrappy fashion.
There were plenty of free kicks and the game did threaten to boil over once or twice but proceedings were well managed by referee Heckie Cormack, who used yellow cards for both sides, but kept the reds in his pocket.
Angie MacPherson hit the bar from a Juniors free kick on 70 minutes following which the momentum swung marginally between the home and away side for the rest of the second half.
It was Juniors who continued to create the best of the chances, though few were clear-cut and their attacking line worked hard but had an off day in front of goal.
The Juniors manager Ryan Nicolson said: “I’m very happy with the three points away from home against a solid Fort William team. Again we had a very young defence who stood up to everything that came their way.
“We probably should have had more goals for our efforts but I can’t fault the lads, they are giving it everything.”
Next up for Juniors is Kyleakin in the Ross Cup semi-final (1st August), while Fort William face Sleat in the league (5th August).
Reporting by Daniel Cullen.