Caledonian Braves faced an uphill climb from the opening minute in Perthshire, eventually going down 3-1 to Jeanfield Swifts at the Riverside Stadium in the Soccer Shop South Challenge Cup.
A first half brace from Chris Dodds put the home side in control, before sub Craig McLaren added a third to kill the game. Ross McNeil made his return from injury with a goal from the penalty spot in the final moments of the match.
The nightmare start for the Braves came before most of the players on the pitch had even touched the ball. The most alert man on the pitch at the time was Dodds, who took advantage of the loose defending and struck past Chardon from inside the area.
Chardon was the busiest man for the Braves in the opening 30 exchanges. On 14 minutes he had to deny Chris McLeish, the Swifts frontman who was put through by Paul Simpson's flighted ball into the box. McLeish took a touch away from Alan Reid but Chardon made his body big to block his shot. Ten minutes later the Braves keeper got his fingertips to divert a shot from Dodds who cut inside from 25 yards on the left wing and let fly.
The Frenchman then had a scare of his own doing as he was closed down by McLeish and under pressure his kick hit off the Swifts player and bounced almost into his own net, but thankfully it settled in the side netting.
Reid had a half chance go wide for the visitors before Chardon was called upon again, this time for penalty duty. Andy Dowie was penalised for handball on 38 minutes but the keeper sprung to his left to palm McLeish’s placed shot round the post.
The Braves had their best chance of the match just before the home side went on to double their lead. Breaking at pace, the Braves worked it through the middle to Jack Smith who then found the overlapping John Guthrie, who’s cross from the right found Corey Pearson at the penalty spot with space to bring the ball down deftly and shape to shoot. It would’ve been his first Braves goal but Pearson curled the ball high and wide.
Jeanfield’s second came two minutes after that. Scott Smith jinked down the left wing line before clipping the ball back to find Dodds on the edge of the area who opened up his foot and volleyed home for his brace, the ball taking a deflection on its way past Chardon.
At half-time manager Ricky Waddell brought on Ross McNeil, the top marksman making his return from a foot injury sustained against Bo’ness. He and Smith linked up well right away and had the ball in the net but it was ruled offside. Smith rounded the keeper from McNeil’s through ball and slotted home but looked across to saw the flag raised.
Ten minutes into the second half and with the score still at 2-0, a flurry of activity in the Jeanfield box almost led to a Braves goal and a possible comeback. Neil McLaughlin's free kick hit the wall but McNeil was alert to the loose ball, however his shot was also blocked. Docherty picked it up on the edge of the area and dinked it back in towards the goalmouth, but Swifts keeper Mark Mitchell flicked it over and the consequent corner came to nothing.
Much of the second half was staccato. The Braves had some decent spells of possession without carving open Jeanfield, while the hosts continued to look their most dangerous on the counter. And it was in that vein their third goal came, as McLaren peeled wide and the offside flag stayed down as he ran in behind the Braves defence. One touch to control and another to roll it under Chardon and just like that this match was pretty much beyond the Braves.
McNeil had a shout for a penalty turned down with just over ten minutes remaining, however he did get the chance to score from 12 yards in the 89th minute when the Braves were awarded a spot kick. The goal will be little consolation to him, and indeed the team’s celebrations were muted if not non-existent, but nonetheless McNeil showed the fans he is more than ready for more action.
Next up for the Braves is a short trip to K Park to face East Kilbride in the league.