With the Westfield surface unplayable following the Senior team match v Benburb on Saturday, the young Pace moved to their new alternate home pitch for the first time. On top of a hill the drainage seems to be excellent as the firm surface, not too much smaller than Westfield itself, was in great condition to welcome local opponents Stenhousemuir.
Having only played 2 games in 3 months there is an obvious rustiness about the Westfield men and with Swords, Hepburn and Taylor suffering from medium term injuries this talented young squad is stretched in multiple positions as the weather finally looks like it will allow games to go ahead.
With those injuries and a little squad rotation in mind there were five changes in the home lineup, Walker joining skipper Balmer at the heart of the defence with McIntyre moving from right midfield to fill in at left back in the absence of Taylor. King started on the right and Mitusch the left of a four man midfield with Maclaren and Meade in the centre. Comrie partnered top scorer Brown in attack.
That meant Steven and Weir starting on the bench alongside new signing Paterson and Cherrie.
Despite the changes Dunipace started the game brightly, as is their habit, moving the ball well and creating chances inside the first couple of minutes for Comrie and King, with the keeper and defence doing well to snuff out the danger. Dunipace may feel that they should have taken at least one of the chances but they possibly just came too early in the game.
Playing with the strong wind at their backs the visitors were finding it hard to create anything against the stubborn Pace rearguard, with McIntyre slotting impressively into the unfamiliar role at left back and providing the starting point for a couple of early Pace attacks that nearly brought the opening goal.
Firstly, the fullback linked well with Mitusch then Maclaren before playing in Brown behind the visiting fullback on the left. With the Stenhousemuir sweeper coming over on the cover Brown skipped beyond him with ease, perhaps too honest to stay on his feet in the area when he was clipped in the process, before drilling across goal with his left just out of the reach of Comrie.
And Brown was in familiar territory again moments later, this time picked out by McIntyre directly as Mitusch had cleverly pulled the fullback short to create the space for his attacker. On this occasion Brown saw his shot blocked, the rebound falling just behind Meade who was unlucky to see his hooked effort slide narrowly past the keepers right post from 18 yards.
Dunipace were well on top and looked the more likely to grab the opener, which when it came was a sweeping counter with a great bit of skill and finish at the end. Attacking on their right, the visitors looked to switch the ball to the runner on the left, but King and Black combined to cut that ball out and find Maclaren in the centre.
Maclaren opened the play out and found Mitusch on the left who had burst forward ahead of his marker as soon as Dunipace had won the ball. The wide man cut inside, and with Brown making a run on the left to create space Comrie made a superb late run through from the right, Mitusch sliding the ball into his path. With the keeper rushing out Comrie showed great awareness to flick the ball round one side of him before going round the other and sliding a composed finish into the net away from the two covering defenders.
An excellent finish at the end of a sweeping move that gave the home side the lead that their play deserved.
As has been the case with this young side all season though, immediately following taking the lead the tempo dropped out of their game, both offensively and defensively, inviting their opponents back in.
And only a fantastic save by Jackson, who had been a virtual spectator until that point, kept them in the lead. The visitors worked the ball down the left, sweeping a right footed cross in behind McIntyre at left fullback with the attacker timing his run superbly to fire first time toward goal from 8 yards, Jackson adjusting his feet superbly to turn it away.
It didn't though serve as the warning that the Pace required as they conceded the equaliser moments later in a very similar move. Defending throw ins has been a bugbear of the Dunipace coaching staff all season, so they will have been more than a little perturbed that the goal came from an away throw. Stenhousemuir were allowed to get the ball into feet far too easily, allowing them safe possession in a dangerous area, working the ball well from left to right into their number 7 who fired an excellent first time drive across Taylor and into the net.
Take nothing away from the finish or the buildup, but Dunipace will again be asking questions of themselves for allowing the move to come from a poorly defended throw in.
In the buildup to the goal the game had developed a bit of needle, with multiple challenges on home players punished by the match official with yellow cards before Maclaren was the recipient of a particularly poor lunging challenge that left him sprawled on the turf in front of the home technical area. Not even a foul awarded and that particularly riled the home side, but it was to be the first in a number of puzzling decisions and eventually led to Maclaren having to be withdrawn as a result of the injury sustained.
The young Pace though didn't let the rugged nature of their opponents play disturb them as they picked the tempo up again, creating chances for Comrie and Brown who both pulled fine saves from the visitors keeper.
Jackson in the Pace goal pulled out two impressive stops of his own as the sides traded blows, first the stopper threw himself to his left to turn a fine effort bound for the top corner beyond the post, before making a better save moments later as he flew full stretch across his goal to turn a ball away off the line in front of 2 attackers and 2 defenders after the ball pinballed around the area.
This time, the stoppers sterling work did prove to be the warning that the Westfield men required as they slipped up a gear for the last 15 minutes of the half, scoring two and but for some excellent goalkeeping could have been more.
First, Comrie took the ball off the toes of McIntyre before firing narrowly wide before Brown stung the palms of the keeper with a drive from the left. The rebound to that effort led to a foul on the right, King being felled again, which was becoming a habit for the wide man. Comrie fizzed the ball across goal and as the keeper came out into traffic to gather Brown nipped in and showed great strength to take the ball from 2 defenders and the keeper before turning into the empty net on the turn with his right.
The impressive Mitusch linked well with Brown and Comrie before dropping the shoulder inside against his man and firing a wonderful effort towards the top corner which the keeper turned away at full stretch as it looked all the way a goal. It was though only a warning shot from the wide man as, after King had come close with a drive from 18 yards, Mitusch went on to register a contender for goal of the season.
He linked well with Comrie on the left before making his move inside to leave his attacker with the ball in the channel. Mcintyre, as he had done all half, made the offer from the overlap and Comrie obliged by sliding into his path. The fullback ran onto the ball and crossed first time with his left before being taken out late with another crude lunge. As the home side called for a foul the official played a great advantage as the ball flew towards Mitusch 20 yards out from McIntyres cross. Mitusch set himself and volleyed first time with his right, catching the under side of the bar, bouncing on the line then catching the underside of the bar again on the way in, right on the angle, with the keeper helpless.
A great advantage and a wonderful volley from Mitusch, with the only negative point in the affair being the official failing to even speak to the visiting player for the tackle on McIntyre.
King, Brown and Meade had further efforts before the half time whistle was blown with the home side going in with a 3-1 lead. But for the efforts of both stoppers, more goals would have been scored, but on balance of play 3-1 to the young Pace was probably about right for the game.
Steven replaced the injured Maclaren at the half, joining Meade in the centre of the park and Dunipace came out of the traps clearly determined to extend their lead. Balmer found Black on the right who played into Comrie centrally to find Brown in the right channel. As the visiting sweeper careered across to make the challenge Brown showed his considerable strength, the defender bouncing off the front man before he skipped beyond another tackle and squared for King to find the net via the keeper.
4-1 and Dunipace surely now with the game in their hands. Alas though a lapse in concentration saw Dunipace give the ball away after winning back from kickoff and then allowed the Stenhousemuir midfielder to run virtually unchallenged into the area, before finally being confronted by Balmer who looked to have committed the foul for a penalty. As the referee blew though the player managed to get his shot away and find the bottom corner, the official quite rightly deciding that the penalty was superseded by the advantage for the goal.
Given though that the striker did manage to score, skipper Balmer could perhaps consider himself fortunate as it was clearly a goal scoring opportunity and a penalty award may well have brought a red with it.
If the match official had given the home side the benefit of the doubt on that occasion, the bizarre decision to award a penalty 5 minutes later certainly countered that! With Dunipace on the attack the visiting keeper came to gather a cross and with no-one on either side in close contact dropped it to be awarded a strange foul. As the ball was knocked forward it was crossed into the Dunipace box where the attacker headed wide under pressure from Balmer and Walker.
As the whistle went there was no claim, from anywhere, for a foul, with both sets of players setting up for the goal kick only for confusion to ensue among both sets of players and fans as it became clear it wasn’t a goal kick. Eventually, it was explained as a penalty, with no-one really knowing the reason. No team is ever likely to look a gift horse in the mouth though and the Stenhousemuir attacker stepped up to convert confidently giving Jackson no chance.
It gave the visitors a lift, within 5 minutes of being out of the game they had been gifted a sniff of a route back in, but once again the home side lifted their levels and started to look the more likely to score.
Steven in midfield linked with Mitusch before playing in Brown on the left. Brown again skipped beyond the sweeper, showing both skill and power, to leave himself through on goal coming in from the left. With no way back the sweeper brought the striker down, the foul awarded and a yellow card shown. That was one goalscoring opportunity let off for both teams, having given the foul with the striker through on goal.
Comrie was next to try his luck, skipping smartly inside before linking with Brown and drilling wide, before Brown was fouled on the right of the box while beating his man, staying on his feet and running the ball out for a goal kick, seeing no penalty awarded.
Moments later Weir, who had replaced the tiring King on the right, was awarded a free kick for an identical challenge on the right, though this was outside of the area. No matter to Dunipace as Comrie and Steven looked sharp to work the 2v1 they had been left with, Comrie playing in Steven who delivered a perfect cross between defence and keeper with Brown sprinting in ahead of everyone to throw himself at the ball, turning in on the bounce with his right to make it 5-3.
Steven picked up a yellow for kicking the ball away, correct no doubt but frustrating given what was being allowed to go without a caution in the game, before the impressive Comrie was replaced by debutant Paterson. It didn't take long before Paterson, neat and tidy throughout and who looks like he will fit perfectly into the Pace way of playing, was involved. He nearly linked well with Brown from a 1-2 inside the area before he played a key role in the attacker grabbing his hat trick.
As the away side attacked Balmer stepped in to clear long towards Brown. The striker got up to nick it forward, before turning quickly to spin in behind. Paterson held off the challenge of the sweeper, allowing Brown to race through on goal and onto his own header, taking the ball away from the defenders with his pace. As the keeper came out to close him down the big striker slowed everything down, confidently drawing him out furthercbefore showing great touch and composure to lift a delightful dink over his head and into the net, a fine way to complete a hat-trick.
The visitors did manage to give themselves another lifeline as yet another poorly defended throw in saw a midfield effort from 30 yards catch a wicked deflection and loop over Jackson in the home goal. The stopper could do little about it, but it was merely a consolation with Dunipace well in control.
From the kick off Brown, terrorising the visiting defence throughout, could have grabbed another in what ended up being one of the most bizarre phases of play those in attendance had ever seen. Brown, skipping inside the fullback before nutmegging the covering defender and getting himself through on the keeper, over-ran the bouncing ball slightly. Fortunately, the striker saw it coming and got himself clear, but the keeper came rushing out to perform what can only be described as a WWE style dropkick, with both feet, towards the forwards midriff, catching the bouncing ball and clearing for a throw .
Apparently, all that warranted was a word from the match official, no card of any colour. Had Brown not got out of the way having seen it coming, well, better not to think about that!
It seemed the visitors had taken a dislike to Brown, hardly surprising given his commanding performance throughout, so it wasn't to be the last time of the afternoon the big striker was subjected to that level of physical aggression. Having won the ball in the tackle in midfield, the ball moved wide only for Brown, still on the ground on half way, to receive a stamp to the leg that left him in pain on the turf.
Again, no punishment, in fact not even a foul was awarded as Dunipace had to put the ball out to allow the striker treatment. With Brown at the side Stenhousemuir looked to be playing the ball back to Jackson in the home goal. The attacker though had other ideas, looking to run onto the ball and attack the home goal, Balmer making sure that was a short lived ambition with a fine tackle.
Black, picking up a yellow for a poorly timed tackle in the corner was replaced by Cherrie at right back, with the youngster fortunate to escape without a yellow of his own for clipping the visiting attacker as they attacked with numbers up. Not a bad foul, in fact one that a yellow would always be worth taking for as play is broken up when at a disadvantage, but the official kept the card in his pocket.
Paterson, playing well on his debut, nearly found himself through on goal but a mix up between he and Weir saw the chance smothered away by the covering defence. Moments later though the striker took all the initiative, taking the ball from Brown before driving beyond 2 defenders and slotting past the keeper with his left for what looked like his first goal for the club. Unfortunately for the front man the covering defender got back to clear off the line, Brown following in to slam into the net for his fourth of the game. All the hard work done by Paterson, Brown who had been superb throughout finishing things off.
In the end a reasonably comfortable victory for the young Pace, playing some decent stuff throughout and with some very good goals scored.
Defensively, on paper it would appear a bad day at the office having conceded 4, but realistically there were a couple of pretty simple things to resolve that may have affected the 3 goals scored and such a penalty decision can never really be legislated for. Overall, defensively, the young Pace performed reasonably well.
Offensively, the visitors will rarely come up against someone with the physical and technical abilities of Brown, who stamped his authority on the game throughout as they failed to find an answer to stopping him from reaching 30 for the season (in 14 games). Although the forward was superb though, he was far from the only threat, with Comrie and Mitusch providing constantly in their own impressive performances. In truth, going forward Dunipace have a wealth of talent at their disposal, with everyone involved on the day performing well, including Paterson who will be enthused that on his debut he slotted in as if he had been playing with the young side all season.
From a Dunipace perspective one of the most pleasing aspects of the game will be the positivity with which the young squad went about their work, their own way, without getting drawn into the physicality of the affair. They simply dusted themselves off and dealt with it by playing their attacking style of football, scoring goals and taking the points.