A strong finish to the match wasn’t enough to prevent Lewis and Harris from slipping out of the Jock Mackay Cup as Orkney edged the battle of the Scottish islands.
Playing in scorching sunshine at Invergordon’s Recreation Park, Lewis and Harris FC gaffer Eric ‘Strada’ Macleod pulled a squad together at the last minute with a long list of players unavailable for a variety of reasons.
In their place chances to cement their places in the squad and audition for a spot in the squad - which is being used as a development and step on the road to the Guernsey NatWest International Island Games in 2021 - was given to a number of young players.
With the Guersney games now almost 18-months away these games are being used by Macleod and his team to prepare players, systems and ideas out for the Island Games and gives island players a tremendous platform to perform on.
Macleod sent Lewis and Harris out in a bold 4-3-3 system with Andrew Macmillan and Mikey Jones given the task of flanking lead striker Luke Mackay.
In midfield Elliot Ruddal anchored with Andrew Murray and Micheil Smith either side.
And a back four of Neil Morrison, Calum Maclennan, DI Maclennan and Campbell Macdonald patrolled infront of Jack Maclennan in between the sticks.
It was a strong 11 for Lewis and Harris but lining up opposite them was an Orkney side who have such a settled squad and play so many games together, being part of the North Caledonian League, they are literally like a club side, settled and comfortable with each other while our Select side have played together so rarely and the squad faces significant personnel changes game to game.
Despite this it was a solid start for Lewis and Harris with Micheil Smith bending the first shot of the match narrowly over the top.
It was an encouraging start but a moment of lapsed concentration allowed Orkney to break the deadlock with their first break forward as Joe Wilson fed the overlapping Liam Delday who finished at the near post from the inside right position.
From the sidelines Macleod urged his team to stick to their game plan and within minutes they began to boss the match. Andrew Macmillan stomped on the throttle on the right wing to gallop past the Orkney left back before whipping a cross into the box with more whip than an ice cream parlour.
At the near post Luke Mackay flung himself at the ball but couldn’t quite reach. But at the far post Mikey Jones was unmarked waiting for the ball to arrive, but with the goal gaping and the keeper struggling to make up the ground the teenager blasted high and wide.
It was a huge let off for Orkney who continued to live on borrowed time.
Andrew Macmillan continued to roast the left back with his pace and direct running and he sent another cross in which was met by Luke’s forehead and flew a foot wide of the upright with the keeper rooted to the spot.
Next to create an opening was Micheil Smith who lost his marker with a swivel of his hips before playing in Luke Mackay who spun and smacked the base of the post with a shot from 18-yards before the bounce of the ball took it into the keeper’s grateful grip.
Lewis and Harris were in charge of the match but on the break Orkney showed their threat as Jack Maclennan was called into action to make a save after Elliot Ruddal lost possession as he tried to dribble through the crowded midfield.
Jack Maclennan was left thanking his stoppers moments later as he allowed an Orkney free kick sent into the box to slip between his gloves and bounce in the six yard box but he was bailed out by his pals as a number of red Orkney shirts tried to pounce.
At the other end Lewis and Harris had the woodwork wobbling again as DI Maclennan outmuscled his marker to steer a volley onto the base of the upright as Orkney once again counted their blessings.
It seemed as if it was only a matter of time before Lewis and Harris were level but they were hit by a sucker punch counter attack as they fell 2-0 behind as Liam Delday finished off another insicive move.
On the stroke of half-time Lewis and Harris carved out another golden opportunity to pull a goal back and change the entire complexion of their half-time team talk.
Smith turned two Orkney players inside out with a double stepover lollipop to make a pocket of space inside the 18-yard-box where his shot was parried to his left by the keeper.
The ball fell for the arriving Macmillan who had an open goal to knock the ball into but he got under the ball and smacked it high and wide.
So Lewis and Harris FC went in two-goals behind after a 45-minutes in which they had enjoyed the lions share of the ball, smacked the post twice and missed two glaring opportunities so there were plenty reasons for optimism for the second half.
This hope suffered another blow inside 60-seconds of the restart as they fell 3-0 after Zack Singh finished with the aid of a deflection.
Lewis and Harris and Orkney had played one another in the summer in the Ynys Mon football competition and during that meeting Lewis and Harris had dominated the first half but failed to take their chances. Then the second half in Ynys Mon was bossed by the Orcadians and this match followed the exact same pattern.
The memories of such a positive first half began to fade as Orkney were much improved in the second-half, giving Lewis and Harris little time on the ball, chasing them down and pressing quicker and dragging them all over the pitch.
For 30-minutes of the second-half there was little joy for Lewis and Harris who saw Jack prevent them falling further behind with a strong stop, pushing the ball around the post.
Eric Macleod rung the changes in terms of personnel and formation as they moved from a back four to a back three, pulling Ruddal back into his now more familiar centre-half position and bringing veteran Peter Mackenzie on from the bench.
The back three change seemed to suit the side who crept back into the match and they enjoyed a far stronger final 15-minutes with Micheil Smith spearheading the charge.
He began to carry the ball through the midfield, skipping challenges and turning red shirts inside out. He was almost unplayable in the final stages and at the end the Orkney bench were left raving about the No.8 and his star turn.
Smith laid on Lewis and Harris’ consolation strike with a run and slipped pass to sub Hamish Macdonald who buried the ball inside the post from 18-yards.
Another charge from Smith saw him kick through the Orkney defence and skip round the keeper with the ball but a sharp blow on the whistle halted him before he could roll into the net for a very tight offside decision.
It was a strong end to the match for Lewis and Harris who pinned Orkney back but it wasn’t enough to maintain their progress in the Jock Mackay Cup.
Orkney will not face Thurso in the semi final on September 28.
For Lewis and Harris there is time to regroup ahead of the forthcoming Football Times Cup. This competition is set to include a group stage format and begins on November 23 with our lads squaring off against Inverness; then St Duthus on December 7; and Invergordon on December 14.
Lewis and Harris FC: Jack Maclennan, Neil Morrison (Peter Mackenzie), DI Maclennan, Campbell Macdonald, Calum Maclennan (Hamish Macdonald), Andrew Macmillan, Elliot Ruddal, Micheil Smith, Andrew Murray (Euan Shirkie), Mikey Jones (Kyle Munro), Luke Mackay. Subs not used: Daniel Macdonald.