Back to league duty today for the young Pace, welcoming Murieston United Blue to Westfield in their sixth game of the competition following a run of recent cup fixtures. With the early fog burning away and the Westfield park again in fantastic shape thanks to the sterling midweek and Saturday efforts of the ground staff, it was down to the players to continue their recent form on this fine autumn afternoon.
The men in black & white had a few selection issues to prior to kick-off: King missed out through a suspected broken toe picked up midweek, with both Taylor (back) and Meade (shin) missing out due to injuries picked up as a result of some 'robust ' challenges in last weeks 5-0 win over Syngenta. It meant a return to the starting lineup in central midfield for Danny Maclaren, who had been in fine form before being unavailable last week.
Maclaren then was a straightforward replacement, but with the natural replacement for Taylor at left back, Jordan Barrowman, having recently left the club to pursue new challenges (for which everyone at Dunipace wishes Jordan every success) it meant Grant Walker, who had started all his games at centre back, slotting into an unfamiliar position on the left. Walker has never before featured at left fullback, but such is his comfort both defensively and in possession he looked extremely comfortable filling the role, playing against a tricky opponent for most of the game.
Dunipace started the game well, moving the ball at tempo through the midfield and across the back line as they felt their way into their usual passing rhythm, keeping possession well and forcing their hard working opponents to chase in order to close down the space. It was clear though that in possession Murieston themselves had a few tidy players capable of causing their hosts problems, both sides sharing a number of early fouls as quick feet on the ball led to a few hung legs and easy calls for the match official.
It was Dunipace who were first to trouble goal though, Brown benefiting from fine interplay between Walker, Steven and Swords to isolate his marker just outside the area on the left. Brown skipped by the challenge but the Murieston keeper was sharp to race out to smother the ball with Brown looking to finish 1v1.
And Brown was denied again moments later as good play on the right, this time between McIntyre and Mitusch, found Steven who had popped up on the flank. Steven raced clear of his marker with a fine touch and squared to Brown who fired at goal, blocked for the corner by the Blues central defender.
Brown came close from the corner, Dunipace clearing the space and Swords firing low into the run of the striker who saw his first time right foot effort deflected narrowly over the top for another corner.
From the corner Swords found Hepburn’s runs to the back post and the big stopper headed narrowly over as he looked to pull back across goal. The young Pace were playing some fine stuff, but they could have found themselves behind when Murieston got in behind the defence following some fine passing, Balmer and Walker between them snuffing out the danger before Jackson was called into action.
Following that scare, Dunipace got straight back into their rhythm and took the lead just before the quarter hour and a superb goal it was, both individually and from a team perspective.
Balmer and Walker exchanged passes in defence before working he ball to McIntyre at right back. McIntyre played in to Maclaren who instantly moved the ball on to Swords to his left and moved forward beyond the midfield line. Steven had made an excellent out to in run to find himself between the lines and demanded the ball from Swords who obliged, splitting the Blues midfield to find his team-mate. Steven dropped off first time into the spin of Maclaren and cleared the area himself, moving to the left. Weir, finding himself in the left channel spotted the opportunity and made a run across the defensive line to occupy the centre back, allowing Steven to move into the space he had created and gather the Maclaren pass, squaring up the fullback who was now isolated 1v1. 20 yards out on the left and Steven dropped his shoulder, moving the ball away from his marker with fine skill before firing the ball with his left foot across goal and into the far corner with the keeper helpless.
A superbly worked team goal with a fine bit of individual skill and a superb finish at the end of it.
The visitors though were not perturbed and nearly found themselves on level terms almost from the kickoff. A long ball forward was won by the Murieston centre forward who knocked backwards into the midfield area. Dunipace failed to move sharply enough to pick up the second ball and nearly paid the price as the first time effort hit the top of the crossbar with Jackson rooted.
As previously, this served as a wake up call to Dunipace who went on to almost instantly extend their lead and it was another fine goal. Dunipace moved the ball out from the back through Hepburn and McIntyre who found Swords in the centre. Swords switched the play to Walker who found the feet of Steven on the left. Steven moved back inside, finding Maclaren who played the ball square to Swords who shaped as though he was going to shoot. In a moment of brilliant skill and awareness though, with two players closing Swords down to block the shot, he ran past the ball, throwing a wonderful dummy to 2 players and allowing it to run to McIntyre who found Mitusch on the right.
A quite brilliant piece of skill by Swords followed up by Mitusch who drove towards the goal-line, lifting his head and picking out Brown in the box, 10 yards out with his back to goal. Brown took a fantastic first touch, allowing the ball across his body with back to goal before shifting with his right back the direction it had come from, wrong footing his defender. As the keeper looked to get himself set Brown offered him no chance, taking first time on his left foot, impressively guiding the ball beyond the keeper to his right for 2-0 and his 20th goal in 10 games.
With Dunipace well on top in terms of possession but their visitors showing that they were certainly more than capable if given a sniff the Westfield men looked to press further and score a third to put the result beyond doubt: Steven, McIntyre, Weir and Mitusch all having efforts on goal before Brown came closest with another fine piece of play. A sharp interchange between McIntyre and Maclaren saw the ball fed into Brown on the right. Brown out muscled the fullback to turn inside, before skipping beyond the cover outside then turning back inside a third challenge with great skill setting himself up 1v1 with the keeper. It would have been another superb strike to add to the skilful front man’s collection, but as he looked to give the keeper the eyes and go narrow side with his left the stopper got a toe to the ball to turn it wide.
As is so often the case with 2-0 and a fine chance to extend the lead that isn't taken, the visitors pulled themselves back into the game almost immediately. From a Dunipace goal-kick Jackson found McIntyre on the right. McIntyre played back inside to Hepburn who was very unlucky to lose his footing on the surface, allowing the striker to nip in and finish, Jackson with no chance. A soft goal to lose, for sure, but the Dunipace rearguard were trying to play the ball out from the back rather than go long, making all the correct decisions in the process suffering purely from an unfortunate slip. This kind of thing can happen from time to time, but it's a small price to pay for trying to play the game out from the back the right way, so nothing really to worry about in the goal itself.
What would have been a worry for the young Pace though would be their reaction as passing became frantic rather than at tempo, possession was surrendered through losing patience and trying to force a final ball and the home side were caught forward in number as a result, inviting their visitors a way back into the game. Indeed they nearly had it as a ball over the top was once again flicked on by the big striker with his partner running onto it 12 yards from goal. Jackson though threw up the shutters, making a fantastic save low to his left t keep it at 2-1.
This time though Dunipace didn't heed the warning and having failed to regain their composure gifted their visitors an equaliser. A soft throw was conceded on the left and despite being set up well the long throw again caused the home side problems. They managed to win the first ball, but a loose clearance found the Blues midfielder on the edge of the area who drilled low at the second attempt into the corner with his left from 18 yards, Jackson helpless.
A fine finish from the away player, but Dunipace had a couple of good chances to clear their lines that were rushed, consequently causing them dearly.
2-2 on 44 minutes but Dunipace nearly went in at half time 3-2 in the lead as Steven showed more good footwork on the left to step inside two challenges and curl a delightful effort off the crossbar from 25 yards with the keeper stranded.
2-2 at half time but having been in complete control of a game against a side who had given them plenty in the way of fair warning that they were a threat, Dunipace had to reflect on the damage done by losing their rhythm in the closing stages of the half and offering their opponents a way back into the game at 2-2.
Comrie replaced Weir in a tactical change at the half, no reflection on the performance of Weir who had generally played well in the first half, Comrie dropping into the hole just off Brown to give Dunipace a different option.
As the second half started any encouragement that had been offered was duly snatched away in the opening 10 minutes as the young Pace came out for the second half clearly looking to prove a point: Those 15 minutes at the end of the first half will not endanger our 100% record. Steven in particular on the left of midfield looked determined, taking the game to Murieston and after linking with Walker and Comrie he skipped beyond two men to win a corner on the left.
Swords swung a deep corner to the back post which was headed away to 25 yards with Hepburn challenging. Steven was patrolling looking for anything dropping out and what followed was, quite simply, stunning at any level. Being closed down by two men charging out after the header Steven took a fantastic first touch with his right, shifting the ball 5 yards to his left and taking out both defenders effortlessly in one movement, setting himself for the shot. The youngster moved onto his touch, curling a wonderful effort with his left foot into the top corner from 25 yards with the keeper helpless. In fact, had the away side had 2 keepers in goal they wouldn't have kept it out.
And within a couple of minutes the youngster had grabbed his hat-trick, though if his first two goals were superb for different reasons this one had a massive slice of luck about it! Linking with Brown, Comrie and Maclaren, Swords found Steven on the left. Steven, given he is perfectly comfortable going left or right had gotten into the mind of his marker who stood far too far off and allowed him to move inside and get his head up. Steven looked to curl another effort with his right, but as it looked like it would be a comfortable save for the keeper it looped up off the head of a defender and over the stoppers head into the far corner for 4-2.
Comrie had an effort blocked before McIntyre was inches from picking out a well timed forward run of Maclaren. Brown had a chance to grab his second of the game after more good football between Swords and Maclaren centrally found Mitusch wide. Mitusch played into the feet of Brown and the striker skipped past the last defender with a great bit of skill, fighting hard to keep his feet having been nicked on the way through. As the keeper rushed out Brown chipped it over his head, the stopper looking on helplessly as the ball dropped an inch over the crossbar.
Another fine run by Maclaren was picked out by Mitusch, lofting the ball into the midfield man’s path and Maclaren showed good awareness to set Comrie running in who saw his effort deflected narrowly wide. There were more goals in the game for Dunipace though and when a fifth came it was Brown getting it, played through by Mitusch after good play between the wide man and McIntyre. Brown raced down on goal and in a carbon copy of his previous chance, as if to prove “yes, I do have this in the locker”, Brown dinked the keeper again, this time the ball nestling in the corner for 5-1.
Brown could have had a hat-trick moments later as Mitusch sprung the offside trap and had the striker free in the centre. Mitusch though opted to go alone and forced a fine stop from the keeper from 6 yards. Mitusch was involved again moments later as he rescued a wayward Maclaren effort from distance, skipping inside two challenges but pulling the ball just behind Brown and Comrie who were looking for a tap in.
Jackson in the home goal was rarely troubled during these exchanges, the defence staying strong to deal with the Murieston attack.
With Swords who massively influential in the game carrying a niggling knock he was replaced by Black on 68 minutes to protect from any further damage, Hepburn moving forward one into midfield with Black joining Balmer at centre back.
And within moments Dunipace made it 6, Brown grabbing his hat-trick after more excellent play by Steven. Dunipace again worked the ball to the feet of the midfielder, proving a nightmare for his marker to deal with. Steven shaped to go outside, then in, putting his marker off balance again before skipping beyond him on the outside and pulling a wonderful left foot cross back into the run of Brown who got the slightest of touches to divert towards goal before it deflected off a defender and in off the post.
6-2 and Brown grabbing his second hat-trick in 10 games, an incredible 22nd Goal of the season. In November.
Balmer picked up a yellow card for a foul on the edge of the area and such has been the recent excellent form of their skipper and a large lead Dunipace sent Cherrie on to replace him, protecting from a second yellow. This meant another change in shape, Cherrie going in at sweeper between Black and Walker with Mitusch moving to left wing-back and Steven joining Hepburn and Maclaren in a midfield 3. McIntyre moved forward slightly into right wing back.
As time ticked away some good play from the away side, still attacking with ambition whenever they could, had a chance to grab a consolation. Agood ball in from the left was controlled well by the striker but as he looked to tap in from 6 yards Black came from no-where with a quite fantastic tackle to send the ball away from danger. Dunipace were awarded the foul as Black was caught by the follow through in what looked like a bad injury. Black though dusted himself off and saw the game out.
Steven lifted narrowly over from a 20 yard free kick before Comrie flashed an efffort wide in the closing stages, but Dunipace were not finished and as we entered the 90th minute they added a seventh. Cherrie played out from the back into the feet of Maclaren who found Steven inside left. Steven linked with Comrie who looked to play to Brown, but his dinked through ball was cut out well. The header though dropped to Maclaren who showed great composure to find McIntyre on the right, retreating to get back onside. McIntyre showed excellent footwork to step inside one challenge then outside another, accelerating beyond the third cover to drill low and hard across the keeper from 12 yards on the angel with his right.
Another fine goal and the last real action as the whistler blew for full time immediately after kick-off.
An action packed game between two sides who certainly like to attack, Dunipace on the day good value for their victory outside of a 15 minute spell at the end of the first half where it looked as though the visitors may grab something from the game. Second half though Dunipace lifted their levels and ran out comfortable winners, scoring some fantastic goals and playing some excellent football in the process.
These sides meet again next week in the quarter final of the Regional cup and for the spectators if it is half as good a watch as this one turned out to be, from both teams perspective, it is one well worth getting yourself along to!