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Harmony Row travelled south to a warm and sunny Kilmarnock to take on Bonnyton Thistle, in one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the season. Both teams were battling one another for trophies last season and today was the first look at how the two would compare against each other in 2012-2013. The brisk breeze that blew before the match died down, as did the scorching sun, which made for perfect conditions for a good old battle of the giants.
Bonnyton were missing a few players but nothing compared to Row, who's squad was depleted to thirteen with many of the starting XI unavailable.
The first chance of the match fell to Bonnyton as silky winger Sam McCloskey played an inch-perfect aerial diagonal ball from the left side that found David Shedden on the right. Shedden battled past Ross Dalgleish before firing a shot goalwards. However, Gareth Watson was equal to it with a superb block - the first of many over the course of the 90 minutes.
Harmony Row made the most of their first meaningful attack as a flighted ball in behind the Bonnyton back four was exploited by Christopher O'Neill who was on hand to latch onto the bouncing ball and loop a superb lob over Dylan Caddis in the Bonnyton goal. 5 minutes gone, 1-0 to the away side.
Bonnyton, playing in blue today, were not behind for long however. Craig McLaren intercepted a pass just inside his own half before moving the ball forward. The ball fell to Ewan Barrie in midfield who played a pin-point pass to attacker Jordan Muir, who controlled and turned outside his marker brilliantly. After three attempts that were either blocked by defenders or by the keeper, Muir fired home into the corner of the net with his right foot to equalise, only 5 minutes after going behind.
Bonnyton showed no signs of letting up moments later as Ryan Golightly burst forward and played a through ball for McCloskey to his left, but Watson rushed out to thwart his run. The pressure kept mounting and Harmony sturggled to find an answer as Andy Hunter slipped in McCloskey from the centre of midfield. The minute winger ran onto the ball and laid it across for Muir to slot home from 6 yards despite Row's claims for offside. With this goal, Muir doubled his and Bonnyton's accounts for the day.
So, after their shaky start against a firm Row side, Bonnyton were now in control of possession after twenty minutes. Despite this, Row almost stole an equaliser through Shaun Gallagher. A picture-perfect cross was whipped in from the right but Gallagher's bullet header just glanced wide of the post from 6 yards.
Thistle regained their composure and soon went 3-1 up after a great team move. Golightly drifted infield and passed to McLaren who started working the ball up to the forward area for Muir who jinked round the goalkeeper before cutting back from the by-line for the incoming McCloskey to nip in stab home the fourth goal of an already entertaining game.
Depsite lacking much creativity up front, Row had played some decent football and did look dangerous when chances presented themselves. However, a clinical or game-changing touch was lacking. One example being on the half-hour mark as Bonnyton nearly gifted Row a route back into the game as they failed to clear following a throw. This allowed Gallagher to try a half-volleyed effort from 15 yards, but luckily for the Ayrshiremen, he failed to connect sweetly and it bounced narrowly wide.
Harmony again had to rely on Watson in goal to save their blushes as, after good running from Shedden and some mesmerising footwork from Hunter on the edge of the area, Bonnyton won a free-kick. McCloskey stepped up but his effort was caught by the Row number 1. This would be Shedden's last involvement in the game. Nursing a back injury prior to proceedings, the flying forward was forced off and had to replaced by Sean Mears. Mears would go on to have a decent game and run his heart out so the substition did pay off.
The last half-chance of the first period fell to Bonnyton as Mears crossed to Hunter on the edge of the box, but his acrobatic effort failed to trouble the keeper.
Half Time: Bonnyton Thistle 3-1 Harmony Row
The last ten minutes of the first half were fairly even, with Bonnyton just edging it on possession. However, on chances created, the Kilmarnock side were far ahead. Row had played some nice football, especially from defence to midfield at times, but they lacked the cutting edge up top that separed the two sides. The second period was all to play for as Bonnyton would look to be ruthless and kill of their opponents, while Harmony were looking for a quick goal to start a salvage operation and get their league campaign off to a flyer.
For the first ten minutes, it appeared as if the scoreline would remain the same, with very little in terms of flowing football being played, with both teams looking scrappy on the ball. The only noteworthy chance came from a rebound off the Harmony wall from a McCloskey free-kick. The loose ball fell to Ryan Golightly, but he blasted over from 25 yards.
However, Bonnyton were presented a golden opportunity to put the game beyond Row's sight due to some slack defending. Harmony were caught in possession midway inside their own half, and Mears drove forward as he picked up the ball. He burst down the wing past the full-back and then played the ball back across the box. The cross evaded all defenders as McCloskey latched onto the cutback and controlled with one touch before firing past the helpless Watson with another.
With that goal any hopes of a comeback were all but gone, and Bonnyton settled play down for 10 minutes, as the chances dried up. Then, on the 70 minute-mark, Bonnyton created three chances came all at once. Hunter worked himself a shooting opportunity inside the area but Watson produced a stunning block to deny him. From the rebound, Steven Hill tried to place a shot past Watson, but again the keeper parried away. This time he sprung back up again to prevent Hunter once more who tried to make amends - this time pouncing on the ball with both hands.
With just under twenty minutes to go however, Bonnyton heaped further misery on Harmony with a fifth goal - even more so due to the away side's claims for offside again. The ball was played up to Hill and he laid in McCloskey with a first time pass. Bonnyton's number 10 sprinted infront of his marker to reach the ball first and present himself with a 1-on-1 chance. On a hat-trick, he could have easily took the chance himself but instead he laid the ball across for ex Bellfield team-mate Hill who had continued his run and timed it to perfection to and steer the ball into the net from close range.
With acquisition of this fifth goal, Bonnyton manager Ian Higgins chose to rejig the line-up for the remainder of the game. Larmour and Brown replaced Strachan and Hunter, who had both put in good displays in midfield. McLaren moved from defence into the middle of midfield and continued his effective performance. As the game neared its end McCloskey could have completed his hat-trick when he won the ball on the edge of the box, but he flashed his shot wide. Row could have grabbed a consolation goal with a couple of lange range efforts, but Caddis was equal to each.
Hill had two chances to add to his account in the last 10 minutes but the ever-present Watson was on hand to prevent his first, before his second chance went wide. Ewan Barrie had the chance to cap a fine individual performance when he made a good forward run from midfield and was found by McCloskey. He burst into the box and created an angle to slot home, but he skewed his shot wide from 10 yards out.
The final whistle was moments away when McLaren almost added his name to the scoresheet. Hill played a nice backheel for the on-running McLaren to get on the end of, but Watson got behind the low drive. A sixth goal would have been harsh on Row who, despite clearly not being at their best, were probably unlucky to be four goals down.
With the referee about to blow his whistle the game threatened to boil over as Row's depleted team clearly became frusrtrated at being outdone by their Ayrshire opponents. The whistle blew just in time to stop any controversial ending to a highly entertaining game.
So, Bonnyton get their league campaign back on track after last week's 3-2 defeat to Claremont. This top of the table clash between two of the GADYFL's giants lived up to its exciting and fiesty reputation, depsite the one-sided scoreline. The game was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, but Bonnyton were nonetheless worthy of the win.
The result leaves Harmony to regroup and recover if they are to try and wrestle the dominance of the GADYFL back from Ayrshire. In terms of outstanding players, Gareth Watson in goal for Harmony was terrific. It is odd to say so considering his team were beaten 5-1 but if it weren't for him it could have been much more due to a string of impressive saves.
For Bonnyton, Craig McLaren had a good display in defence, looking assured on the ball for most of the game and breaking forward well. Jordan Muir had an efficient display before he was taken off, and both his goals were finshed with aplomb. However, Bonnyton's stand-out man was Sam McCloskey. The flamboyant winger caused Row trouble all day, socring two goals and setting up two as well.
Full Time: Bonnyton Thistle 5-1 Harmony Row