Lochie greats as Maroons win 9th league title

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Brian Clough famously pointed out that a goalkeeper’s save is worth as much as a goal.

Both David Macmillan and Angus Mackay would wholeheartedly agree with Clough’s summary after Lochs won a thrilling Lewis and Harris league title decider on a night where two goalkeepers were the difference.

In the away end Lochs’ James Macleod produced the kind of save which you have to see to believe. A gravity defying stop which saw Andrew Morrison’s bullet header sail beyond Macleod’s body and was surely destined to bulge the back of the net.

But somehow the goalkeeper thrust his trailing hand, which was well behind the rest of his body towards the ball while also generating enough strength to divert the ball over the top of the crossbar - all within the ferocious pace of real time.

The save drew a mixture of audible gasps of astonishment and cheers from the packed crowd in Garrabost as Macleod denied Point what looked to be a certain goal and one which would have put them ahead and in the box seat for the title.

Then three minutes later as the ball was swung in at the other end a deep cross from David Macmillan saw Point goalkeeper Alastair Lamont come to claim it, calling his name as he did so. But unfortunately for Lamont he let the ball slip between his gloves where it bounced a yard in front of the line before looping in.

But for the heroics of one keeper Point would have been in front then within a matter of minutes they were trailing after a mistake from their own goalie. The agony and ecstasy of wearing the gloves as the last line of defence in football.

Macmillan’s cross turned goal proved to be the winner and the goal which ensured Lochs retained the Lewis and Harris league championship - becoming the first team to retain since they were last champs six years ago.

For the ninth time the League Title trophy will be paying council tax in Leurbost as it takes residency for the forthcoming twelve months. The destination of the title had fallen to the final 90-minutes of the league season in dramatic fashion with both Lochs and Point tied neck and neck on 34-points. This season it had been agreed that in the event of a tie on points then goal difference would not be considered with a one-off play off to be arranged instead.

A huge crowd was drawn towards Garrabost for the title deciding clash and the action on the park matched the enthusiasm of those streaming into the ground to watch.

A 2-0 reverse in Lochs earlier in the campaign was Point’s solitary league defeat as the sides went into battle with the Reds hoping to avenge their loss and with it take their first title since 2004.

The opening 20-minutes was fairly even as the two sides slugged it out in the midfield with neither keeper called into action too frequently or to any great extent.

But the opener arrived on 25-minutes as Stephen Campbell turned past his own keeper as he tried to clear a Robert Mackenzie cross under heavy pressure from Jim O’Donnell.

The ball was whipped in towards the penalty spot where Campbell stretched his boot to reach it before O’Donnell, but his touch hooked the ball over Lamont and into the net.

With an average age of just 22, and a midfield made up entirely of teenagers, Point’s young side could have been forgiven for buckling under the weight of the occasion, but to their credit, and to the pride of coaches Angus Mackay and Willie Macaulay, they fought hard to get back in the match.

They made tentative inroads towards the Lochs goal and while they had plenty of the ball they remained susceptible to counter attacks. One such break saw Darren ‘Cage’ Wilson denied by Lamont with a close range header moments before O’Donnell smacked the frame of the goal with a far post header.

Andrew Murray hooked Point onto level terms in both the match and in the title hunt nine minutes before the interval with a moment of ingenuity, quick thinking and no lack of technique with a crisp back heel finish.

Teen midfielder Angus Macdonald made a barnstorming run up the right flank before hooking a cross into the penalty area. The ball bounced beyond a stretching Lochs boot and found Murray, who was the only red shirt in the box amidst four of Lochs’ maroons.

Murray had his back to goal and the ball sat up infront of him but he caught the defence by surprise with a first time back heel finish which flew into the net.

As the sides emerged from Ionad Stoodie for the second-half it was all to play for. 45-minutes to decide the fate of a season’s worth of league football and take the championship flag home.

A cross from the right highlighted Point’s worrying vulnerability to high deliveries as it slipped through Lamont’s grasp but Ali Gillies booted clear.

Then Point had the post to thank for keeping Lochs at bay as Mackenzie’s header thudded against the far post.

At the other end the hosts showed their own attacking capabilities with a breaking move which released Alexander Macdonald who in turn hung a ball up to the back post for Andrew Morrison to attack.

We know how this turned out as James Macleod channelled his inner Peter Parker to spring and block in incredible fashion.

Three minutes later and Lochs had the lead when Macmillan’s cross slipped into the net forcing Point to once again chase the game.

Lamont made a fantastic late save to divert a long range effort from Andy Murray onto the crossbar as Lochs looked to put some distance between themselves and a Point side going for broke.

A number of offside decision raised the blood pressure and noise from the Point bench who weren’t convinced of the decisions to flag against their rampaging red strikers.

The referee’s whistle prompted a roar from the travelling Lochies and heartbreak for the home side but as the Point supporters acknowledged at full-time, their squad is incredibly young and they took the league fight to the final night.

On this form Point’s time will come, sooner rather than later, but for now it’s all about Lochs, champs again and the first side to retain the title since they did so themselves in 2010/11.

The foundation stones of Lochs latest title triumph can be attributed to a number of aspects from the goals of Jim O’Donnell, the return of John ‘Uig’ Morrison, David Macmillan and Andy Murray’s class and experience, the energy and chest thumping passion of skipper Peter Mackenzie or Niall Houston’s youthful drive and all action demeanour.

Or to the metronomic consistency of Robert Mackenzie - my tip for Player of the Year when the end of season gongs are dished out.

But Macleod’s saves, particularly the aforementioned stop to break a 1,000 Rubhach hearts simultaneously was just as pivotal.

As the Lochs players swarmed their No.1 at full-time proclaiming it as the kind of stop ‘that wins titles’ - no one could argue.

Returning to Brian Clough, he heralded Peter Shilton as the key to Nottingham Forest winning the title in 1979.

Speaking at the time he remarked: “With Shilton in goal it gave everyone more confidence. It spread through the side.

“The defenders felt safer, and the forwards thought if we could nick a goal, there was more than an evens chance that the opposition wouldn’t score at the other end.”

These words could easily have been spoken by anyone in the Lochs camp after the Maroons won their eighth Lewis and Harris league title, their second on the bounce.