After multiple false starts Bute’s 1st team finally got their 2017 campaign up and running at home to Oban Celtic in their namesake trophy.
Ted McDonald was able to name a strong squad with only injured son Iain and Ben Clark unavailable for selection though will be hoping for better attendance at training as the season progresses.
The close season had contrasting fortunes for both these clubs with Bute requesting voluntary demotion from the National Division to South Division 1 while Oban had won the area league and had taken their place in the second tier.
Oban have played 2 league games already this season and with their position in the league above would have begun the game as slight favourites.
The Bute line up showed a strong spine, however with plenty of young players on display for the red army fans to get behind.
The first 10 minutes at a bright Meadows swung from end to end with neither team in the ascendency, however a brief period of Oban pressure brought the game’s first goal.
Oban worked the ball from midfield down their right hand side and cut the ball into the D and with Bute failing to clear their lines South U21 captain Ally MacKerracher bundled the ball past a helpless Kevin Queen in goal.
In several games last season a loss of a goal this early would have meant an abandonment of confidence and precipitated a total collapse but there are signs that this team has a stronger will and belief in themselves.
Bute exhibited a steely determination to fight back from the upset of losing a quick goal to play their way back into the game and create the better chances in the first half.
Bute’s centreline took command of the proceedings with Arron McKirdy showing some neat touches, the physical Franco Devlin influential in everything positive that was created and the tireless Jambo Craig confounding his age to put in a masterclass in the middle of the park.
Up front, the constant movement and close stick work shown by Craig McKay was creating space for Robert Walker whose probing through balls from a deeper, withdrawn role was putting Gordon McMillan and Duncan Davidson into shooting positions but the Oban keeper was left untested.
Defensively Bute were all change from last year with Leighton Reid lining up in the unfamiliar position at full back, Scott Harvey’s promising pre-season performance against GMA earning him the start at half back alongside player of the year Ryan Craig and captain John MacCallum.
Half time was met with positivity in the Bute ranks with the home side on an upward trajectory and continued this into the second half with master of throw ups Craig putting Bute on the front foot. Neil McKirdy and Roberto Zavaroni were introduced to good effect in the forward line with Walker pushed onto the D as Bute continued to make all the running. Zavaroni’s physical play and powerful hitting was keeping a steady supply into the danger area with Mckirdy using his size well to shield the ball and send through some dangerous layoffs.
McKay and McMillan had withdrawn to the centreline and both had fine games on the flank winning the ball and beating their men at will.
Any incursions towards Queen’s goal were dealt with by the Bute defence with the younger Craig catching the eye shackling Oban’s danger man Madej, with Harvey and Reid solid in their new rear-guard roles.
Bute finally got the reward their performance deserved after 65 minutes following good work from McKay on the right who had the ball on a string playing a dangerous ball into the D for the oncoming Davidson to force over the line sparking relieved celebrations.
Both sides pushed for a winner but no further goals sent the tie into extra time.
Bute looked fitter over the resulting additional period but could not find the breakthrough their build up play deserved and the dreaded penalty shoot-out loomed.
It would have been a hard way for Bute to have lost the game but Walker’s decisive penalty coupled with no less than all five of Oban’s efforts being saved by the excellent Queen.
A positive start for Bute however a much sterner test lies in wait this Saturday as the islanders welcome Premier League high flyers Kyles Athletic to the Meadows in the first round of the Macaulay Cup.
Bute’s players took possession of their new kit bags for the coming season with thanks to the Bike Shed and Bute Brew for their kind sponsorship.
Bute 1 Oban Celtic 1 (Bute win on penalties)