Lewis and Harris win Mod Cup

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Lewis and Harris 4

Uist and Barra 0

EVERY few years a team is forced to rebuild, look to the future, separate the diamonds from the rough and pass the baton to the next generation of top-team stars.

The Lewis and Harris Select have been rebuilding almost block by block, position by position, over the past couple of seasons, crow barring in a handful of fresh-faces aiming to follow in the stud marks of those who have served the Select so well for the past decade.

Select boss Billy Flower has always spoken with great pride and faith in his emerging crop but he, in his preview with the Gazette last week, warned he would no longer be making excuses and was fed up of ‘hard luck stories’ and he was keen to see his young charges step up and forcefully announce their own arrival.

And based on this performance it appears both are true. Flower’s new crop of youngsters are blooming and the manner in which they dominated a strong and experienced Orkney side last month and now cruised to a 4-0 win over southern neighbours Uist and Barra to land the Mod Cup suggests they are keen to repay their bosses faith in them.

Flower has shown a willingness to build a side around his youngest players like Iain Macleod in goal, Steven and Stuart Dunn, Martin Maclean, Alasdair Gillies and Andrew Macleod up top.

Macleod, one of the new breed of Fivepenny Fledglings, was almost unplayable. A slight will-o-the-wisp frame belies a steel core of strength and durability but the teenager showcased more flair than a 1970s jean emporium and opened his Select goal account with a cool finish.

Alongside the new faces are of course a handful of experienced and classy heads in skipper Graeme Mackenzie, Domhnall Mackay, Scott Maciver and midfield ace Ross Hall, fresh from leading Back FC to their first domestic league title in 11-years.

It has been Flower, and assistant Dano Macdonald’s, job in the past 18-months to forge the past and the future together in a potent blend for the present – a job Saturday suggested they are performing admirably.

Lewis and Harris welcomed Uist and Barra to Upper Coll on Saturday for the Mod Cup but any niceties towards their southern cousins was restricted to after the match as they cantered to an easy win.

It was a scrappy opening with an absence of chances or incident restricting each opposing goalkeeper to virtual spectator.

The only moments for either to enter the action in the opening 10 minutes was when Uist and Barra’s Hector McPhee cleared the wall with a dipping free kick but it’s height and lack of power meant it was always going to be bread and butter for Iain ‘Tohan’ Macleod to scoop up.

At the other end the lively Steven Dunn attempted a hitch volley after arriving unnoticed at the back post but it was scrambled clear.

Lewis and Harris began to poke and prod at the Uisteach rearguard but the visitors stood firm until the 19th minute when they fell behind in cruel circumstances when they put through their own net.

Tireless runner Peter Mackenzie slipped the ball behind the full-back for the charging Martin Maclean who smashed the ball towards goal where it took a flick off Paul McPhee’s studs and rolled in behind the wrong-footed Neil Ferguson.

Lewis and Harris could have doubled their lead a few minutes later after another midfield raid, led this time by Ross Hall, resulted in Scott Maciver earning a clear chance but Ferguson made an excellent block with his right foot.

Five minutes before the break they fashioned another opening when Steven Dunn won the ball on the left flank and toe-poked it on to Andrew Macleod who spun and clipped an early ball into the box where Maciver had drifted in a chasm of space between the Uisteach centre-backs but the ball was inches too high and denied Maciver a free header to pick his spot.

The visitors were hanging on a bit at this stage but they made it to half-time just one-goal down thanks to a glorious stop on the stroke of the interval by Ferguson who turned a well struck Maclean effort around the post.

Although it was a great stop Maclean should have scored after linking up with Maciver to earn a one on one chance with the keeper.

Maciver was again involved after the restart as the goal-grabber turned goal-maker by unselfishly hooking the ball across goal when he had the chance to shoot to pick out a better placed team mate.

That was Ross Hall who arrived on cue in the box to coolly sweep the ball past Ferguson and into the bottom corner.

Two quickly became three when Steven Dunn’s run from his own half was picked out by Fraser Macleod’s clever ball round the corner which allowed the United midfielder to gallop the full length of the Uist half to reach Ferguson where his initial drive was saved by the keeper, Dunn made no mistake with the rebound, rolling home to all but seal the Mod Cup.

Sub Fraser Macleod, fresh from having a hand in the third, made the fourth with another perfectly weighted ball through to Andrew Macleod who sprinted in on goal before clipping the ball round Ferguson who had raced off his line to put the gloss on a stunning win for Lewis and Harris.

Uist and Barra did have the final chance of the match with a late free kick which whistled narrowly wide and glanced header which had ‘Tohan’ scrambling across his goal.

In the end it was a comfortable win for the homesters to kick off the Mod in style and the signs are positive for Lewis and Harris, and while there is plenty work yet to do and improvements to be made, the young side look to have more engines than a series of Top Gear and could prove to be not so much a breath of fresh air but a force 10 gale.

Photographs from the match in this week’s Stornoway Gazette - out now.