Blairgowrie 1, Arbroath Vics 1
ARBROATH Vics got the new season under way with a D.J. Laing League Cup Group B tie away to Blairgowrie on Saturday.
With regular ‘keeper Lee Hutcheson on holiday, Bob Duncan took over in goal, while new signing Marc Walker was given a starting place up front alongside Craig Watson.
It took Vics until the seventh minute to break into the Blairgowrie half with any purposeful intent when good play in midfield from Colin Lawson saw him release Craig Stephen but Robbie Hood did enough to hold him up and allow goalkeeper, Gordon O’Brien to dive and smother the ball at his feet.
At the other end, Craig Sturrock was not convincing in dealing with a Stewart Nicoll cross, and when his clearance landed at the feet of Graeme French, the midfielder drilled a 20-yard drive over the bar.
Vics responded with Watson sending Walker away, but a great sliding tackle from Mark McColl halted his progress at the expense of a throw-in. From the throw, Craig Sturrock picked out David McLeish who made space to get a cross into the box, which Robbie Hood stuck out a leg to divert over his own crossbar.
Axworthy was proving to be the main threat for Blairgowrie and when he again burst into the box soon after, Duncan was forced into making a good save on this occasion, diving low to his left to prevent the number 11’s shot from finding the net.
Sturrock then put Vics back on the attack, hitting a long ball over the Blairgowrie defence for Watson to chase. The striker got to the ball before Gordon O’Brien just outside the box, but when he nodded it over him, Gordon Pirie had got back to block it and the ball eventually rebounded back into the arms of the ‘keeper who had backtracked into his area.
On the stroke of half-time Stephen was crudely hauled down by McColl just a couple of yards outside the box. The Vics’ player had to be helped off, while surprisingly the Blairgowrie full-back escaped without a caution. Watson took the resultant free kick but the ball cannoned back off the home wall and the referee brought the half to a close.
Half-time: Blairgowrie 0, Arbroath Vics 0.
With Stephen unable to resume after the break, his place was taken by Garry Warren. The substitute was quickly involved, getting on to a Walker through ball inside the first 30 seconds and bringing out a save from O’Brien just inside the area.
In 50 minutes Blairgowrie got their noses in front. Findlay sent MALONEY away up the right and the striker advanced into the box before drilling a low shot into the back of the net.
Vics responded in the best possible manner by restoring parity within a couple of minutes. Warren played Lawson in down the right and he took his time before playing the perfect cross along the box for WATSON to sweep home beyond the ‘keeper.
As play hotted up, Sturrock just failed to reach a Warren corner with his head and the ball bounced off the thigh of Watson and dropped behind.
Sturrock picked up the first yellow card of the afternoon, his name being noted for dissent after he had been given offside. A clearance from O’Brien almost let Axworthy in but a great block from Durno snuffed out the impending danger.
In 62 minutes, Vics made a change when Ryan Owbridge replaced Walker.
The visitors were next to have a go when Stewart Nicoll misdirected a header in attempting to clear a Sturrock cross, into the path of Watson, but O’Brien got down smartly to block the shot.
A minute later, Vics were out of luck when Owbridge got on the end of a Warren corner to beat O’Brien with a header, but his effort was cleared off the line by a defender.
Vics had a huge slice of good fortune in Blairgowrie’s next attack. Axworthy played the ball across the face of goal and Johnston, in attempting to clear, sliced it goalwards but it struck the underside of the bar and Duncan was able to claim the rebound.
Midway through the half, Blairgowrie made a double substitution, sending on James Simpson and Steven Harris for McDonald and Sheed.
The homesters might have regained the lead in 73 minutes when Nicoll swung a corner kick to the back post, but Maloney and Harris appeared to get in each other’s way and stabbed it wide from a couple of yards.
Nicoll and Durno both found their name’s entered into the referee’s book for dissent in separate incidents as the game moved into its final 15 minutes, before Vics made a third change when Chris Simpson came on for Lawson.
The Arbroath men almost grabbed the lead seven minutes from the end when Fotheringham sent an angled drive inches wide of O’Brien’s right hand post following a neat passage of play out on the right.
French halted Vics’ next attack by tripping McLeish as he tried to make progress from midfield, which earned the Blairgowrie player a yellow card.
The final chance came Blair’s way just before the final whistle when French crashed a 23-yard shot over the bar after Nicoll and Axworthy had created the opening.
In what was an entertaining game to open the season, a draw was probably a fair reflection over the 90 minutes, with both sides having their chances to stake a claim for the three points.
Blairgowrie: O’Brien, McColl, Nicoll, Hood, Pirie, McDonald (Simpson, 71), Findlay, French, Maloney, Sheed (Harris 71), Axworthy. Unused substitutes: Hay, Ramsay and Millar.
Arbroath Vics: Duncan, Johnston, Sturrock, Lawson (Simpson, 80), Durno, Florence, Stephen (Warren, 46), Fotheringham, Watson, McLeish, Walker (Owbridge, 62). Unused substitute: Laing.
Referee: Mr. S. McBurney, Broughty Ferry.
Vics continue their sectional matches in the D.J. Laing League Cup tomorrow (Saturday) with a home match against Montrose Roselea. Kick-off is at 2.30 p.m.