Football returned to North Lanarkshire on Tuesday evening as Caledonian Braves met Gretna 2008 FC. Sunshine saturated the pitch in what supporters anticipated would be another strong performance from the Braves, where the sides youthful tenacity would be on display. Having salvaged a draw on Saturday against a 10-man Gala Fairydean Rovers, Ricky Waddell was looking for his players to stamp their authority on this campaign.
As the crowd settled into the stands and leaned against the perimeter fence the referee’s whistle pierced the calm of Strathclyde Country Park. Football was about to begin at Alliance Park. And those spectators did not have long to wait.
With less than a minute on the clock the Caledonian Braves attack had sliced open the Gretna defence. Mark Kelly with the half-volley off the crossbar and upright to nestle the ball into the net. Stark contrast to the sluggish start just three days earlier. One – nil to the Braves.
After this early goal the game would now see Gretna marshalling their midfield and defence to limit the threats from the brave attacks of the Caledonian players. With attempts coming at the Gretna goal, it was now a matter of time before their goal was breached again. The Braves pressure telling when Jamie Watson, on the end of a ball whipped across the penalty area, appeared and using his right foot flicking onto his left, would beat the keeper at the tightest of angles. Two – nil to the braves.
The referee blows the whistle, as the players settle their minds on the next 45-minutes. Gretna needing to find a way back into the match, Caledonian Braves searching for a momentum that will carry them into Saturday’s fixture against Bo’ness.
The midfield battle continues as both teams settle into complacent rhythms of attack and defence. Chris Henry in the Caledonian goal looks comfortable with the waves of red shirted Dumfries and Galloway men thundering towards him. The Caledonian defenders in front of him talking, watching, and anticipating every move. Smothering every chance before they become a threat.
The deadlock in the midfield is broken when the touch of Jamie Walker finished a beautiful phase of possession resulting in the scoreline becoming three – nil. This period of possession and the tired minds of Gretna players who after a long shift already were chasing shadows was only going to get worse. With 57 minutes gone, Jamie Walker slots the ball home for his second of the night. Four - nil to the braves. The Gretna keeper, blocks Mark Kelly from his second on the hour mark.
65-minutes in both managers look to their bench to replenish the teams and keep the intensity high. Gretna’s change designed to steady the possession stat now ticking in favour of the Braves. The Caledonian Braves changes designed to keep that momentum and show the ferocity of hungry, young players eager to maintain what now promises to be an unbeaten start to the season. Cameron Breadner is brought on for Matthew Collins.
The Gretna sub allows them a rare attack as the Caledonian Braves settle into their shape. But almost as quickly as they reach the Caledonian goal, the Braves are counterattacking, and a Yellow Card is issued as Mark Kelly who is fouled 20 yards from goal. The subsequent free-kick coming off the wall and being cleared. 73-minutes gone and more movement on the bench.
A double substitution for the Braves sees Zac Butterworth and Jamie Watson coming off for Jacob Long and Ross McNeil. 15 minutes remaining in the match. Gretna would have two more snap shots at goal and their willingness to get forward is a testament to their attitude to football. But as the game draws to a close Ross McNeil weaves a path through tired legs, rounding the keeper, and slotting the ball into an empty net. 88-minutes gone Caledonian Braves five – nil.
The referee looks at his watch, restarting the match and almost as quickly as he blows the whistle it is against his lips again. Cameron Breadner the earlier substitution shreds what is left of the Gretna defence and that is six-nil. 90 minutes are played, and the referee calls the game to a close. The players surround each other to congratulate themselves on an emphatic victory. The spirit around this Braves team, sees them congratulate their opposition, fist bumps and pats on the Gretna player’s backs. They have put in a shift, but it was long way to travel to come away with nothing.
Alliance Park the home of the Caledonian Braves now welcomes Bo’ness on Saturday. Two clubs undefeated looking to continue this positive start to the season. Thursday night training sessions for both clubs will be about getting the mindset right, tightening up the possession and concentrating on the task of adding another three points.