As the sun split the West Coast sky, Hamilton Academical Inverclyde FC and Bonnyton Thistle FC took to the pitch for the Elizabeth Canning League Cup Final, looking to channel their league and national cup disappointments into a positive performance that would lead to cup glory.
In a close game where both sides struggled to dominate for long spells it was the boys in red and white who came through victorious after a quick double-goal salvo in the second half put them narrowly out of reach of the Ayrshire men who rallied towards the end but found themselves continually frustrated by the Hamilton keeper.
Hamilton started the brighter of the two sides, putting pressure on the Thistle goal with two early corners. The first, from the left side, was swerved in towards goal and was met by the head of Dylan Blair who rose highest at the penalty spot and bulleted a header in the direction of the net. Bonnyton’s goalkeeper Craig Speirs was forced into a terrific save to deny the Accies striker and the flare of the match was immediately lit.
Another free header for Hamilton came five minutes later and again it was Blair on the end of it, almost sneaking in under the bar from a right-sided cross.
Both of those chances came either side of a Bonnyton breakaway that could have put the Kilmarnock squad ahead.
A counterattack down the left wing instigated by full back Andy Hunter and midfielder Murray MacKintosh, with the latter beating his man on the edge of the area and finding a gap to cross for Stevie McCarrison, who was arriving in the six-yard box. The striker evaded the closest defender by juggling the ball away from his outstretched leg but when it came to beating the Hamilton goalie Calum McMaster his half-volley just was not powerful enough and the keeper managed to dive down to the left and grasp it.
Hamilton continued to press early on and carved Bonnyton open on the 12-minute mark after winning the ball midway inside in their opponent’s half. Blair was again able to find the ball, this time with it on the deck, and he cut inside from the left and drilled a shot low at the bottom corner but Speirs turned it wide. From the resulting corner Accies worked it short and Aiden Devine’s right-footed cross from the left wing almost crept in, if it was not for a Bonnyton defender thwarting it on the line at the near post amongst a melee of players.
Back up the other end, McCarrison and McMaster continued their battle of wits. The pacy striker raced onto a through ball and found himself one-on-one with the goalie as he entered the penalty area. The two squared up and it was McMaster who came out on top again, diving at the feet of McCarrison as he tried to nip the ball to the keeper’s left.
Nine minutes later the two were at it again, with McCarrison presented with an opening similar to the first duel. Declan Adam worked the ball to the left from the centre circle and set winger Brandon McEvoy racing down the left wing. He jinked his way past his marker and from the by-line squeezed the ball back to the incoming striker. The ball trickled across the face of goal but with McCarrison under duress from the Accies defence he was not able to muster the required power to beat McMaster who once again dived on the ball and kept his clean sheet intact.
Far from being disheartened by the stellar play of McMaster, Thistle continued to push for the opener. They remained the more in-control side when in possession with MacKintosh being the main playmaker. Jordan Greenlees broke free from right full back a couple of times down the right side but Owen Connelly did well to marshal him from the opposite full-back position.
As the first-half clock ticked into the last 10 minutes, Hamilton came agonisingly low to cracking the deadline – quite literally. Two long-range shots from Blair and Chris Burns smacked the crossbar a minute after the other with the two right-footers unleashing almost fatal fire on the Bonnyton goal. Despite being peppered Speirs remained on his toes and looked to have the second of the shots covered, but the defence were quite clearly rocked.