West Side win EAF Cup after Scott Graham treble
If you have a problem '“ and if you can find him '“ maybe you can hire: Scott Graham.
The West Side midfield man is more clinical than a guerilla gang of former US Army commandos – well he was in the weekend’s Eilean Fhraoich Cup final anyway.
His cup final treble downed Lochs and brought island football’s oldest cup competition home to Barvas for the seventh time in the past 11 seasons.
Such was Graham’s impact on the 90-minutes, played at Ness’ Fivepenny, you could be forgiven for assuming he had got changed into his blue West Side kit in a phone box as he was his side’s Clark Kent.
The midfielder scored a hat-trick and could even have bagged five in a turbo-charged performance to down Lochs and deny the Maroons attempt at hooking a domestic cup quadruple.
Not for the first time this season Graham was remorseless about using his great gifts to score and make late, well-timed bursts into the opposition box from midfield.
Graham maximised his traditional repertoire which dovetailed to perfection with the likes of Luke Mackay, Innes Iain Morrison and Ali ‘Barvas’ Macleod to his left and right. Their threat, movement, dribbling and tricks all create space for Graham and he, in turn, is like a bank that provides a huge interest rate with a high chance to conversion rate.
Donnie Smith and Duncan Maclean were exceptional in defence, winning most of the aerial duels, making clearances and blocks. Ally Williamson organised, covered and cleared. David Allan stuck to his man marking roles while Ali ‘Barvas’ maintained his high standards, leading the way attacking on the flank and Martainn Shields offered an outlet on the left.
In front of the resolute back line, Dan MacPhail was tireless and dynamic, leading the resistance movement, harrying Lochs, intercepting passes and launching occasional counters. Scott Graham was, as previously mentioned, magnificent here, proving too strong for Lochs, who were out-thought, outmuscled and outjumped.
And while West Side were at full strength, full pelt and playing with a zip and swagger Lochs’ Eilean an Fhraoich Cup hopes were all but dashed inside the opening half-hour as they lost three of their most experienced players and almost the spine of the side to injury.
Skipper Peter Mackenzie was first to hit the turf after twisting his knee after an awkward landing. The fact top scorer Jim O’Donnell was even on the park was a surprise to most watching after the striker had been on crutches less than a week earlier and it was a gamble which didn’t pay off as his old injury resurfaced and he was forced to signal to the bench and hobble gingerly off.
Callum Masson then followed O’Donnell off the turf with a groin pull forcing Lochs boss Anderson to send on Ally MacKenzie for his first appearance of the season alongside Ali ‘Koch’ Morrison – another player who has barely played in a year.
On the field West side and Lochs locked horns like a pair of rutting stags with the final piece of footballing silverware of 2018 in Lewis and Harris sitting in the stand.
Lochs already had three trophies on the Creagan Dubh sideboard this season and were eyeing a fourth but in their way stood a West Side team who have dominated the Eilean an Fhraoich Cup over the past decade.
The Siarachs have drunk from the oldest cup competition in island football seven in the past eleven season and their latest triumph is their ninth EAF success in total.
West Side, starting boldly, taking the game to their opponents, but not finishing them off when the opportunities presented themselves, and allowing Lochs to stay within striking distance. All their neat passes and flicks, faints and swerves created a number of good openings.
The opening goal arrived on 14 minutes as Graham opened his account. The goal came after Dan MacPhail’s cross into the box had smacked off the base of the upright before being knocked back across the face of goal by Martainn Shields for the waiting Graham to steer home from eight yards.
West Side could, and should, have doubled their lead on the half hour mark as Lochs lived dangerously and had to woodwork to thank for keeping West Side out in a frantic 30-second spell where West rattled the frame of the goal three times.
Ali ‘Barvas’ Macleod cracked the crossbar before Martainn Shields followed up with a header against the crossbar. The loose ball was knocked back in by Ally Williamson to Shields who struck the post this time from an offside position with the assistant referee’s flag bringing welcome respite to the Lochs defence.
The second-half was still in nappies – just three minutes in – when Graham did make it 2-0 as he was afforded the freedom of the Lochs box to wander away from Ally Mackenzie and power a header low inside the post from an Ali ‘Barvas’ Macleod cross.
Six minutes later it was 3-0 and surely game over and too much of an ask for Lochs to come back into contention as the West Side began to ready the blue ribbons to fasten to the Eilean an Fhraoich Cup.
Again it was a goal forged in the wide areas as a delivery from the flank, a Duncan Maclean corner this time, was met by Scott Graham, who showed great movement in the box to begin a backwards run before sharply changing direction to stride forward instead, shaking off his marker, and meeting the ball on the volley to steer West three-goals clear.
But Lochs, depleted numbers or not, are not the kind of team to accept defeat easily and they pulled a goal back and earned a late lifeline as Gordy Maciver swivelled and found the bottom corner from 12 yards for 3-1.
With 18 minutes left to play Lochs knew they had to go for broke. Urged on by their bench to show more fight and keep believing they began to pepper the West Side box with long balls.
And while over the balance of the 90-minutes there is no doubt that West Side thoroughly deserved to win and they created enough goalscoring chances to scored far more than the three goals they netted, Lochs were still there at the end, scrapping away, sending a shiver up the collective spine of the visitors as they threatened to land the sucker punch at the death.
The introduction of towering stopper Calum Tom Moody, almost unbeatable in the air, as an emergency striker, forced West Side onto their heels and only a stunning flying save from Iain Gillies denied Lochs a second goal which would have set up a nail biting finish for the watching West Side supporters.
David Martin was sure he had made it 3-2 with a well connected header which seemed to be sailing over Gillies until the keeper made a stunning leap to claw the ball out of the top corner as West Side held on for a 3-1 win and to lift the Eilean an Fhraoich Cup once again.