After gallantly fighting back from a goal down on two separate occasions, Caledonian Braves couldn’t find a late equaliser and fell to a tough 2-3 defeat, that saw the Spartans advance to the final.
On Tuesday evening, Caledonian Braves entered the South Challenge Cup semi-final, to face recently crowned Lowland League champions, the Spartans, in one of our biggest games of the season.
Both Scott Forrester and Marc Kelly dropped out of the squad from our previous game, with Ross McNeil and Jack Duncan returning to the starting line-up at Alliance Park.
“We asked the players to give their absolute all and I can’t say for one minute that they never did that”, a disappointed Ricky Waddell stated after the game. “I just feel like we like to make it tough for ourselves”.
This statement alluded to the Braves’ nightmare start to the game, after our visitors raced into a one goal lead, with just forty-five seconds on the clock. Playing into a glaring sun in the opening phases, the Braves failed to clear their lines and handed the ball to a Spartans attacker after attempting to play out. Bradley Whyte needed no second invitations and struck a sweet left-footed strike from outside the box, which flew over Bernie White in the Braves goal, to give his side an early lead.
Despite this initial setback, the Braves responded well and progressed with some strong phases of play in their search of an equaliser. “After the goal we were brilliant, we played really well”, added Ricky. “We played some good football, we were positive, on the front foot and created chances. I don’t think were a huge amount of chances in the game, but we had a lot of pressure on their box and goal”.
Ross Lindsay came close to scoring directly from a corner with a clever set-piece, which was well saved by Carswell in the Spartans goal. Luke Main perhaps looked like the most likely goal-scorer for the hosts at times and he also tested the Spartans ‘keeper with a strike from the edge of the box.
Following on from another set-piece as the pressure mounted, the advanced Jamie Walker did superbly to win back the ball for his side, to create a second phase attack. Ross Lindsay consequently re-delivered a low cross into the box, which was met by Ross McNeil, who finished from close range, with a vintage poachers strike after 25 minutes.
As a competitive half continued to rage on at Alliance Park, neither team deserved to enter the break behind a goal. However, the dangerous Cammy Russell had different ideas, when after 38 minutes, he re-established the lead for the visitors. Following on from a decisive break-away, the Spartans number 11 weaved in and out before unleashing a powerful strike into the bottom corner, which gave White little chance in the Braves goal.
Games between these two sides rarely lack goals, with the sides sharing twelve in their two meetings prior this campaign. So despite the half-time score, more goals were expected and duly delivered in the second half.
The opening twenty minutes of the second-half were played out at a lower pace than that of the first-half, as the Braves searched for an equaliser. To the delight of the home support, the leveller soon followed, when Luke Main grabbed a deserved goal after 65 minutes.
The goal followed on from some clever play, after Ross Linsday took a free-kick quickly into the feet of Ross McNeil. The ball then fell to Main at the edge of the box, who struck a powerful effort, which took a fortunate ricochet before finding the back of the net, to once again level the scores.
With a place in the final firmly on the line with twenty-five minutes to play, the Braves dug deep to stay competitive with the Lowland League champions, who were on the front foot in their search of a winner. With 77 minutes on the clock, a Braves defender was adjudged to have used too much force when defending a floated set piece, and Alastair Grieve instantly pointed to the spot.
Kevin Waugh stood up to re-gain the lead for his side, however his low, powerful penalty was superbly saved by the out-stretched frame of Bernie White, for his second penalty save in three games.
Unfortunately, the fifth and final goal followed soon after, when the Spartans retook the lead from the resulting corner. After failing to get the ball clear, Jamie Dishington met the loose ball with an impressive acrobatic effort, which flew into the roof of the net, much to the delight of the travelling support.
The Braves pushed hard for a leveller, however created little in the final ten minutes. Luke Main saw a tame free-kick hit the wall from close range and John Guthrie claimed for a handball, after his powerful strike was deflected by a Spartans defender in the box.
However, despite a gallant effort from Ricky Waddell’s side, an organised Spartans defence held on to secure a place in the final.
“We have to be man enough to say ‘we’ve done great’, but at the same time, if you concede three to the Spartans, it’s going to be a tough game”, finished Ricky post-game. “We’ve got to take it on the chin, congratulate the Spartans for going through and kick on. It’s another day tomorrow, and Thursday we’ll need to get back into training to prepare for Saturday”.
The Braves will return to action on Saturday afternoon, we when host The University of Stirling in a Lowland League clash. We hope to see you at Alliance Park this weekend, for our final home game of the season.