With Summer finally upon us, well into June, it was blue sky and sunshine in West Calder for what turned out to be the last game of the season for the young Pace. With Broxburn winning 2-0 in their final game Dunipace's West Lothian rivals, in a purely football sense given the good relationship between two excellent young sides, officially claimed the league title that had been inevitable since March's league win at Westfield.
It's been a funny old week for the Westfield club. There was more positive news for the young group as Nick Taylor, Ian McIntyre and Sean Brown all started the final First team game of the season away to Wishaw, all 3 drawing great praise for their performances in the 5-1 win with most in attendance in agreement that they were the best players on the park. 43 goal striker Brown, on his first senior start for the club, managed to score his first goals at that level, grabbing a brace and finding only a post in the way of a first senior hat-trick. It was certainly a great night for the Dunipace youth setup.
That, though, was tempered by the news that first team manager Craig McKinlay and his assistant James Orr, instigators and champions of the youth system who had produced those players, would be leaving the club to take on the challenge of managing Cumbernauld Colts through their inaugural season as a professional club in the Lowland League. Everyone connected with the youth setup obviously wishes the pair every success in what is a great opportunity for them and thank them for all their efforts, particularly from a youth perspective, over the years.
Kickoff in the long grass at West Calder proved that there’s no rest for the youngsters, Taylor Brown and McIntyre all in from the start to play their second game in two evenings, but such is the quality in this young team you'd never have known. His two goals the night before had taken him to 45 for the season and Brown made it 46 in under 2 minutes, Danny Maclaren composed as ever in midfield and playing a wonderful left footed through pass into the run of his striker. Brown did the rest, 1 touch to control, 1 to move forward and from the left hand side of the box he opened his body and curled beyond the helpless keeper and into the bottom corner for 1-0.
The goal perhaps came a bit early for the young Pace, for whom their early season habit of starting well, getting a lead and then dropping off to allow their opponents in hadn't reared its head for quite some time. That is until now! Dunipace dropped the tempo and some slackness crept into their play allowing their hosts to but them under a bit of pressure. Jackson in goal had to field a few efforts from distance but nothing in the way of chances that could have been said to have troubled him.
One pleasing aspect of their play recently though has been their exploitation of the 20 seconds after ball transfer from a defensive to attacking sense. Their second against Broxburn in their recent cup final was a classic example of this, having the ball in the back of the net within that 20 second period, with 4 players involved and breaking from the edge of their own area. Relevant because they showed it was no fluke, doing exactly the same thing here to grab their second goal.
Balmer headed clear from a home corner and Maclaren was first to react on the edge of the area. Taylor saw the move develop and broke forward with Paterson and Brown again spitting the defence wide. Maclaren beat his man with a great touch before finding Taylor who helped into the run of Paterson on the right. With the keeper rushing out Paterson slid in to play square across field from almost the touchline and into the path of Brown who too a touch and slotted into the empty net for number 47 of his season.
Mitusch, Steven and Maclaren all had efforts from distance before Taylor fired a free kick into the wall after the home keeper rushed out of his area and used his hands to take the ball away from Paterson, fortunate only to see yellow. Brown too was cautioned for a foul, the particularly poor match official having missed the initial foul on the striker.
The yellow didn't bother the hitman though and he grabbed his hat-trick and number 48 for the season moments later. The home keeper rushed out to take the ball from Paterson but dwelt on it too long allowing the combination of the two Dunipace forwards to nick it off his toes 30 yards out. The ball rolled to Brown, 30 yards out under no pressure with no keeper in goal. Not exactly a conundrum in any what happened next quiz, 3-0 and game over after half an hour.
Following the goal Dunipace slipped off the game again, not having played at anywhere near top gear in the first place but now playing well within themselves with Brown though clearly maintaining an interest in trying to reach that 50 mark.
Into the second half and Dunipace made it 4 within minutes, good play between Taylor and Steven on the left finding Mitusch who played a raking crossfield pass with his right into McIntyre in acres of space. McIntyre drove towards goal and slipped past the keeper for 4.
It was the last involvement for he and Taylor, given a break following the exertions of the night before and replaced by King and Swords, Steven moving to left back. Not a familiar position for the midfielder, but such a good brain for the game he slipped in effortlessly.
In truth it was obvious it was a game that Dunipace just wanted to end as they became more and more pedestrian as the half wore on, not only playing way below the tempo they normally set but playing a different game altogether, dwelling on the ball, dribbling too often, too many flicks and tricks, but they were clearly being forgiven from the side, for the most part, for what was obviously an end of season blowout after a fantastic campaign.
The hosts were fortunate not to see their keeper sent off for the second time as he had a needless kick out at Paterson behind the back of the official, the stopper obviously not one for quitting while you are ahead as he did the same two minutes later, this time spotted and resulting in a straight red he could have been given 3 times in the game.
The home side had a goal chalked off for offside and Dunipace didn't capitalise on 3 or 4 good chances to extend their lead, the game in the end frittering out with the scoreline remaining at 4-0.
In the end the result more than the performance was a fitting way to end the season, the team who conceded significantly fewer goals than any other team keeping a clean sheet and the striker who score more than some teams on his own grabbing a hat-trick. In between there were some flashes of the progress made by every player at the end of what has been a very productive season for the young squad.
31 games played, 27 wins and 4 defeats, a win percentage of 87%, up 4% on last season. In all only two teams managed to stop them winning all season and one of those was Scottish Cup finalists and equally as impressive West Lothian rivals and league winners Broxburn Athletic. 3 Cups won (Regional, County and League), losing finalists in another and missing out on the league by 1 point having only dropped 4 (2 defeats – not counting the last 2 conceded games).
At any level those are impressive numbers, but perhaps the most telling is the frequency of participation at first team level. At some stage of the season every player has been involved, be that in bounce games or training, with the first team. Critically 10 have been involved in competitive matchday squads in differing degrees of frequency, 6 have made their senior debut for the club, 3 have made at least one senior start, 2 completing 90 minutes at least once, with another scoring his first goals at Junior level.
Everyone should be proud of the season they have enjoyed, with progression to varying degrees throughout the group. It has been a pleasure for the coaching staff to have been involved with this group, we consider them to be very special bunch.