County Cup Final
Almondvale Stadium, Livingston
Sponsors MOTM: Conlyn Comrie (Dunipace Juniors)
On this weekend in 2014 a fledgling Dunipace Under 19’s, written off almost universally prior to the start of their season, left Almondvale Stadium with the County Cup trophy. It was to be their first in a season which also saw them (belatedly) win the league and finish runner up in the league cup.
Fast forward one year and the group, with 6 who won here last time, will have been hoping that a result in this tie would again prove to be the catalyst for their season run-in with 2 more cup finals and a semi-final still to come.
Having made a quick stop at Westfield to pick up the trophy Dunipace arrived at the stadium to find themselves in a familiar position as the last game of the day with the previous games running over. It meant the squad being able to take in a little of the Bo’ness v Airdrie under 16 final, both teams clearly enjoying the day as the sun shone in Livingston.
Starting their preparations at 15:00 and being pushed for a 15:30 kick-off it certainly wasn’t ideal preparation for either side, but there was some amusement as the match programme contained a mix of the details supplied for this year and those mistakenly left in from last, the printer seemingly forgetting to update the text along with the player names, leading to a section filled with reference to last year’s team!
That amusement aside the game kicked off in the sunshine, the pitch in far better condition than last season allowing Dunipace to settle early into the passing game that they like to play. Moving the ball out from the back the opening to the game saw the Westfield men looking to control the ball and probe the Blackburn defence for weakness, their opponents employing a more direct approach and hitting their tall striker direct at every opportunity.
It was certainly an opening of few chances, but there was a bit of needle in the game as their opponents let Dunipace know they were around. Mitusch and Meade were the recipients of heavy early tackles which went without punishment beyond a foul, with Brown being manhandled consistently without the game being stopped by the official.
As things settled down though the first real chances in the game fell to Blackburn. Unsurprisingly given the pattern of play to that point the first came from a set play, the ball drilled in from a corner on the right with the attacker getting there just ahead of Balmer to head wide.
Dunipace then, always looking to play football, nearly played themselves into trouble as Jackson played to Steven under pressure from a goal kick. Steven was never really favourite and with the striker bearing down on goal, Balmer and Walker closing in, he struck straight at Jackson who made amends for his error by making the stop.
Comrie tested the Blackburn keeper from Distance with his right before Jackson collected a low drive from distance, Dunipace then starting to put together some fine passing moves leading to chances.
Firstly it was good football down the right involving Comrie, McIntyre and Steven, the ball worked infield to Brown who played forward first time to Mitusch who had come in off the line into a central position on the edge of the D. As Brown played the ball Comrie continued his run, Mitusch always aware of what’s around as his high position on the assists table would suggest, flipped round the corner into the run of his opposite wide man and Comrie pulled a save from the keeper with his left.
Next up another flowing move down the right involving McIntyre, Comrie and Meade led to McIntyre playing Weir into the right channel. The striker got his head up and fired a wonderful low cross across goal, taking out defence and keeper, Brown throwing himself at it but missing by inches as the ball fizzed wide.
Although at times struggling a little from the long ball Dunipace had certainly found their passing rhythm and soon created the best chance of the half. Steven, Walker and Meade combined to fine Mitusch on the left. Mitusch involved Brown and Steven again before dropping back to Taylor at left back. Taylor played a wonderful ball over the head of the centre back and into the chest of Weir. Weir controlled well on his chest and pulled an excellent save from the Blackburn keeper, the rebound falling to Meade who, only going to get one touch, fired over the top with his left from 10 yards.
Brown burst through on goal from a Mitusch pass and shot wide with his left before Steven fired wide with an effort of his own with the left as Dunipace looked to take the lead before half time. They did exactly that on 41 minutes.
As they had done all half Dunipace worked the ball out from a goal kick, playing across the back line from left to right and into the feet of McIntyre. McIntyre burst forward and found Comrie who helped inside to Steven. Steven played a good early ball out to Mitusch on the left, the quick passing and switch of play allowing the wide man to go 1v1 against his fullback. Mitusch created himself a yard of space and whipped in a truly magnificent ball with his left, taking out the defence and goalkeeper and picking out Brown who had the simplest of tasks to head into an empty net from 3 yards. Goal number 41 of the season for the influential striker and amazingly his first with his head! On this occasion he couldn’t do anything but score such was the quality of the cross from Mitusch.
1-0 to Dunipace at the half and despite Blackburn having a couple of decent chances of their own probably a fair reflection on the game at that stage, Dunipace playing some very good stuff in spells and creating a few very good chances that they may feel they should have taken more from.
Into the second half and as expected the game became a little more physical, the match official finally having to go to his pocket to produce a yellow card as the men in black tried to force their way back into the game. With the exception of a couple of poorly defended set plays which led to decent chances for Blackburn, Dunipace were defending reasonably well from open play. Their biggest issue self-inflicted as they too often got caught in playing the long ball rather than stick to the passing game that suits them so much better. Taylor and McIntyre as a result were struggling to play as high, with Weir and Brown becoming increasingly isolated up front.
Brown, to his credit though, was still fighting hard when played the ball. His directness is his major strength, but his physical strength and ability to hold the ball in under pressure has been apparent when involved with the First Team of late. Many defenders at Under 19 level are simply not used to playing against a striker with that mix of power and ability and the Brown was obviously riling his direct opponent as he so often got the better of him. This led finally to the Blackburn centre back being sent off 10 minutes into the second half, the linesman seeing him throw a head-butt at Brown.
You wouldn’t know it based on his playing style, but Brown is in general a very calm individual and he showed great restraint to walk away and allow the officials to do their job. A goal down it put Blackburn right up against things.
Brown nearly doubled the Pace lead from a corner won by some good play from Comrie. The ball was fired in and the striker rose above everyone, heading narrowly wide. Perhaps 2 headers in one game was asking too much!
Steven was replaced by Maclaren and Weir by Black on the hour, Comrie moving forward to play off Brown and McIntyre moving into right midfield. It was a move clearly aimed at both gaining control of the ball with their extra man and strengthening at the back. The happy side effect was the release of McIntyre as an attacking force.
Within moments of moving forward the wide man pulled a save from the keeper, combining with Brown before driving in behind and shooting low to the keepers left. He was involved again moments later, again finding himself in the right channel and firing a wonderful low ball across 6 yards, again narrowly missing Brown and Mitusch.
Meade picked up a yellow for a foul on half way which led to his withdrawal in favour of Swords, Meade potentially being an easy target for the official to even the numbers for any accidental hang of the leg. It was another impressive outing for the midfield man though and in Swords and Maclaren to replace Meade and Steven Dunipace are spoilt for quality in the central midfield area.
Both Swords and Maclaren were involved as Dunipace came within inches of extending their lead, the pair linking in midfield before finding Black. Black took a wonderful first touch and drove into the space in front of him, committing the covering midfielder before playing into McIntyre on the right. Comrie made a good angle between the lines for the wide man, McIntyre playing first time into his feet and continuing his run for the return pass, Comrie obliging with a fine ball round the corner and into his run. As McIntyre headed for the goal line and the defence retreated, Comrie held his run and as McIntyre feigned to cross he cut back superbly into the path of Comrie who fired off the underside of the bar with his left from 18 yards.
It wasn’t over there as Brown gathered the rebound on his chest 12 yards out, the most unfortunate slip seeing him lose the chance to tap in, but Mitusch collected the ball and won a corner.
It was a fine flowing move from Dunipace and a sign of things to come as they grabbed their second. More fine football through the midfield area involving Swords and Maclaren found Taylor at left back. Taylor played down the line to the feet of Mitusch who dropped back into Swords. It’s fair to say that the Westfield men have at times missed the creative influence of the diminutive midfielder this season as he’s spent so long on the sidelines and as he opened his body he found a wonderful reverse pass into the feet of Brown. Brown drove onto it and played beyond the keeper, Comrie making sure the ball found the net for the Pace second.
2-0 to the men in blue as they looked to take the trophy back to Westfield for the second season in succession.
It could have got better for the Westfield men as well as Brown got the better of the Blackburn keeper who had acted as a sweeper all day, but his defenders managed to bail him out of trouble as they got round on the cover before Brown managed to get there. It did look as though the keeper had grabbed the big striker as he went passed, but the officials decided there was no foul.
There was though a foul moments later, just outside the centre circle in the Blackburn half as their keeper again rushed from goal to avert an attack but played his midfielder into trouble. With the keeper 15 yards outside his box and the goal gaping the quick thinking Swords screamed at Brown to put the ball down. The striker did just that and Swords struck for an empty goal only to see a Blackburn player come from beside him and block his effort from a yard.
A retake of the free kick and a yellow card for the offender, something Swords is all too familiar with, an absolute stick on. Much to everyone’s amazement and the Dunipace annoyance the official waved play on. Apparently blocking free kicks from a yard is OK!
King replaced the impressive Mitusch on the left with a little under 20 minutes remaining and the pacey wide man was straight into the action, driving beyond the fullback and cutting back towards Brown and Comrie, the defender getting a toe on it to stop another effort on goal.
With 7 minutes remaining, if Dunipace were upset about the bizarre decision at the free kick earlier they were more so by the decision to award a penalty to Blackburn. A high ball came into the area and was knocked down, skipper Balmer making a wonderful challenge to block the shot from just inside the area, the official inexplicably deciding that it was a foul and giving Blackburn some hope in a game that Dunipace were, at that stage, pretty comfortable in.
If the award of the penalty was 100% wrong, the taking of it was superb. The Blackburn player stepped up left footed and fired with power into the top left hand corner of the net. Had there been two of Jackson in goal, he wouldn’t have kept out. A fine spot kick.
Cherrie came on almost immediately to replace Comrie, another defender to shore things up for around the last 10 minutes including stoppages. He, Walker, Black and Balmer won a number of headers as Blackburn pushed for an equaliser, but in the end Dunipace managed to get the ball down and control the final stages of the game, Brown fittingly having the final say as he held off two defenders as he had done all day, keeping the ball in the corner as the official blew for time.
2-1 it finished, Dunipace deserved winners on the day and probably a little disappointed that they had to dig in at the end under some pressure when they really should have seen the game out at 2. Overall it was a good performance from the Westfield men, finding a way to get the job done without playing to the level that they have shown at times this season. That, in itself, is a great attribute to have.
Next up is Whitburn Juniors away in the league on Tuesday night, kick off 19:00, followed by a Regional Cup final against AC Oxgangs at Dunbar on Saturday 23/05, kick off 14:30.