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Bonnyton Thistle hosted league rivals Claremont AFC on a cold January afternoon in Ayrshire. Revenge was the theme for Bonnyton after suffering a 3-2 defeat the last time the two teams met. Thistle's form has since improved but Claremont would be no pushovers after a few impressive results of their own.
The game kicked off i,n end-to-end fashion and we had brief sights of goal for either side in the opening 10 minutes. on 5 minutes Bonnyton's Craig McLaren lofted a great diagonal ball in behind the Claremont defence from deep that found the foot of Sean Mears. The pacy winger just couldn't gain cotrol of the ball enough though as he moved towards goal, and Jamie Leitch came out to scoop things up.
5 minutes later, at the other end, Jamie Sinclair sprinted down the line and burst past two defenders before pulling the trigger - but his low drive was only good enough for the side netting.
After a stop-start first twenty minutes, Bonnyton created their first clear-cut chance. Ewan Barrie juggled the ball on the edge of the D before flicking it in between two defenders for Jordan Muir but the striker failed to connect sweetly as Leitch came out to the penalty spot to catch the ball and thwart the danger. There was a chance moments later for Bonnyton as a cutback found Andy Hunter, but his shot was saved down to Leitch's right. 35 minutes gone. The Claremont goalie had a storming game in the previous tie and was looking key again in this game.
Both teams had struggled to make a telling impacgt on the game in the first half an hour. Bar a few halh-chances here and there, both sides were still finding their feet. Bonnyton in particular were looking far from match-sharp as they gave the ball often too cheaply too often and were struggling in the final third.
Claremont meanwhile were lacking the crucial cutting edge in the last third too and were having to work harder in defence than their opponents as they pressed more towards the end of the half.
As the half drew to a close, Mears saw a looping header drift wide for Bonnyton while Ewan Barrie found Sam McCloskey with an inch-perfect through ball but the winger couldn't apply the finish.
Bonnyton had became the more dominant side towards the end of the period as the gained they upper hand in possession but they were not looking as clinical in the final third as in recent weeks. Claremont were making things difficult with their hard-working, determined and physical approach.
Half Time: Bonnyton Thistle 0-0 Claremont AFC
10 minutes into the second half and a golden chance missed for Bonnyton. Barrie, who'd been impressive going forward so far, worked it down the line and cut the ball back for Muir 4 yards out, but he scuffed his shot.
Claremont turned the tide onto Bonnyton to create their first chances of the half - all in a very scary 2-minute spell for the home side. First, Ross Crichton was unlucky to see a cracking long-range strike fizz wide before a goalmouth scramble forced Dylan Caddis into two quick-fire saves.
Jordan Muir had his third chance of the day come from a similar range as his second when Steven Gregory burst down the line and laid in Kieran McCrum, who flicked it over to the forward who stood waiting in the 6-yard box; once more however he just couldn't put the ball over the line. Leitch was proving a worthy nemesis. Just over an hour gone and still 0-0.
Then, with just under twenty minutes to go, the opener. And it fell to the away side as a through ball caught the Bonnyton back four sleeping and allowed Lee McGuiness to nip and and curl an outside-of-foot strike past Dylan Caddis from 12 yards out. The striker did well to find the space before finishing with aplomb to put the away side ahead.
Bonnyton had been far from their best while Claremont had kept battling away in all areas of the park so the 1-0 scoreline perhaps came as less of a surprise to the Bonnyton faithful and more of a reflection on how their fortunes had went so far.
Thistle brought on Steven Hill and David Shedden in the hope of changing the game and switched to a 4-4-2 formation to try and find a way back into the match directly. The two would play a part in the equaliser as Hill let a pass run through his legs for the latter to pick it up and drive towards goal. Shedden took two touches before smashing a powerful strike towards goal that stunned Leitch and evaded his grasp as it flew into the net. A spectacular strike from the attacker that made the game all-square with just over 10 minutes to go including stoppage time.
Bonnyton had failed to move up through the gears so far but the equalising goal seemed to inject some life into the players who finally started to move the ball about like they can. Sam McCloskey almost clinched the winner for Thistle on 82 minutes when the ball came out to Shedden after a corner. He found the winger at the back post with a picture-perfect cross but he sliced wide from 8 yards as he failed to add to his season's already goal-laden tally.
Bonnyton were desperate to snatch all three points and but for some last-ditch defending and bad luck in fornt of goal they may well have done so. Claremont were determined to hang onto the point as they defended for their lives.
Steven Hill connected superbly with a volley in the last minutes of the game but it spun narrowly over the bar for 14 yards. Then, in the dying seconds, two painfully close chances for the home side. Shedden found Muir in the box with a hanging cross from the left but his header was parried brilliantly by Leitch. Seconds later, Ewan Barrie did everything right as he almost netted a wonder-strike worthy of winning any game. He chested the ball to control it 20 yards out before letting fly with a sweetly-hit left-foot volley that dipped powerfully only to skim the bar by a whisker. And that was the last of the action as Claremont clinched the draw as Bonnyton were left looking at each other thinking what might have been. They picked things up towards the end of either half but went home knowing they can do better.
Claremont pick up a hard-earned point away from home which will no doubt help them cement a decent position in the league table and help them move towards the top. Lee McGuiness put in a superb shift up top and took his goal very well. Jamie Leitch looked like he would never be beaten at times as he made some key saves.
For Bonnyton, Ewan Barrie and Andy Strachan were the two top contributors to a performance far from Bonnyton's best. Barrie was excellent going forward and had a lot of joy against the Claremont defenders both through the middle and out wide, and made several good passes. Andy Strachan was a rock in defence and made many crucial tackles, headers and interceptions. Claremont made it hard for the Kilmarnock club with their physical presence but the football Bonnyton are capable of was only seen in spells. Bonnyton will be left to wonder why they weren't able to move up the gears and hit top form like they have in recent weeks but let's not overthink anything - it's only January and it's still a point gained so all still tp play for in the league for Thistle. This feeling was summed up by Bonnyton manager Ian Higgins, who said on Twitter after the game by saying the result "Keeps us in the hunt for the league" before adding the team were "Not at our best today" and "Can play a lot better". He is right, and the players know it. The good thing for Bonnyton is - the players are capable of it.
Nonetheless, a thoroughly well-earned point for Claremont who, if they keep up this form, can certainly climb the league and cause many other teams problems.
Full Time: Bonnyton Thistle 1-1 Claremont AFC