Highland Amateur Cup Final: Avoch 5 Back 1 20th August 2011
It was never going to be easy to write this report especially when the pain was clearly etched on the faces of the Back players as they walked, crest-fallen, off the pitch at the Caledonian Stadium. A couple of hours before kick-off, this was to be the stadium of dreams for these boys but as we all know this beautiful game of ours has a way of tripping you up when you least expect it and no-one but no-one expected this. It was the furthest thing from the minds of those fans who clambered on the buses at Ullapool, full of expectation and hope that Back could once again bring the Highland Amateur Cup home to Lewis and once we started down the Kessock Bridge the sight of the team warming up on the lush turf in front of the impressive stand only heightened the expectation.
Goathill was the other option for this final but how could our boys in blue be denied the chance to play on a pitch that only seven days ago saw Caley Thistle take on Glasgow Rangers. To play on the same pitch as Jelavic, MacGregor and Naismith would be inspiring as would the facilities on offer to the players and fans most of whom immediately rushed up to the plush Directors seats for the best view on offer.
The game kicked off in a mixture of sunshine and fierce wind with Avoch swapping ends to take full advantage of the conditions. Back started well and saw their dream continue when after only five minutes Martin Maclean picked up a loose pass and burst through the Avoch defence to fire a low shot under Neil Mackay and put Back into the lead. A great strike from a player who is gaining a huge reputation throughout the north of Scotland.
The fans were still celebrating when a punted clearance caused panic in the Back defence and allowed the dangerous Paul Brindle to nip through on goal, lob the out-rushing Tohan Macleod and calmly side foot the ball into the empty net. A crushing blow to Back as they went from jubilation to despair in sixty seconds with their pain being shared by those fans in the stands.
At 1-1 we were always in the match but didn’t seem able to create any clear cut chances. Up front Kevin 'Bloxy' Murray and Derrick Macleod were well marked and got no change from Pirie, Gair or the MaCallisters. As half time came it was clear that something needed to change. Be it tactical or just a rollicking from manager Iain Maclennan, we needed to see the same Back that looked so terrifyingly good in the second half against Wick Groats and, more recently against Aths in the league.
The change never came. The second half started much as the first except Avoch had stepped up a gear an started to dominate the match. Brindle who would go on to be man of the match was starting to have a greater influence on the game and along with Charlie Christie they began to stretch Back all over the place. Next Ian Wilson sent Shaun Kerr clear on the right and he squared to Christie who made no mistake form six yards.
Within minutes Paul Gair intercepted a clearance on the half way line and played an inside pass to Brindle who spun DJ Macdonald and raced through to place the ball neatly inside Tohan’s left post. The fourth came as Avoch broke upfield. Brindle collected the pass but was up-ended by both Jason and David Macleod but as they complained to the referee Taylor took the quick free kick and set Kerr through on goal. Tohan came off his line but it was to no avail and the ball was slotted home for Avoch's fourth goal.
It was all over bar the shouting and when Gary Urguhart headed in a fifth just before full time it was a cruel ending for a team that has done so well to reach the final of this competition, scoring an average of nearly five goals per game on the way. Even in the league Back have averaged four goals per game and have a miserly defensive record which makes understanding this result all the more difficult.
Avoch were by far the better team on the day with everyone playing their part and then there was Brindle who was in inspired form, no wonder Clach are keen to sign him. Avoch captain Martin Macallister lifted the trophy from sponsors Macleod IFA for the third time in five years.