BUTE’S senior team provided plenty of encouraging signs for the rest of the season despite falling at the first hurdle of the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup on Saturday.
Garry MacPherson’s hat-trick helped holders Inveraray through to a quarter-final tie away to Ballachulish, although Bute - in their first test of the season against Premier League opposition - were left rueing one or two questionable decisions by referee Charles Young in the closing stages of an entertaining game.
“The score didn’t do us justice,” coach Barry Martin told us. “It was disappointing to lose, but we weren’t beaten because Inveraray were better than us.
“Although we lost, we played well and created plenty of chances, which shows we haven’t let our standards drop even though we’re not in the Premier League any more.”
However, Bute’s hopes of springing a surprise at Winterton Park suffered an early setback when the hosts took the lead in the very first minute, breaking quickly dfrom defence and launching a high ball over the Bute half-backs for MacPherson to race in and slot home the opening goal.
But Bute soon adjusted to the pace of the game, and once they had settled into a rhythm the islanders enjoyed a bigger share of the play than their hosts.
And the visitors were presented with a golden opportunity to level the match after 15 minutes when an Inveraray man played the ball with his foot inside the penalty area, only for Robert Walker to fire wide from the spot.
However, with the enlarged penalty area rule which applies only in the Celtic Cup, it was always likely there would be more opportunities for infringements than in a regular game - and Bute were duly given their second penalty of the day in the 25th minute, Hector Whitelaw striding forward from full back to slam the equaliser past Graham MacPherson in the Inveraray goal.
The two teams were fairly evenly matched in the closing stages of the first half, but Bute were far from overawed, despite having lost three Celtic Cup finals to Inveraray in recent seasons - Brian Liddle had a superb game against Russell Mackinlay, one of Inveraray’s major threats, while David Whitelaw spent much of the afternoon running rings around the McMurdo brothers, Euan and Andrew.
And the men in red were rewarded five minutes before the interval with a fine second goal, which saw the ball played in from the left to Gordon McMillan, whose ball across the face of the D was laid off by Walker to Stuart Strathie for a first time finish which gave the ‘Aray keeper no chance.
Walker was twice denied by the keeper as Bute went in search of another - but instead of going into the break with a healthy lead, Bute were pegged back by a classic Inveraray sucker punch in the final minute of the half, when another ball over the top caught half-backs Iain MacDonald and Robert Ferguson out of position, and though keeper Kevin Queen raced from his goal to clear, he inadvertently struck the ball with his foot, allowing MacPherson to tie the match at 2-2 from the penalty spot.
The second half was just as evenly matched as the first, though Inveraray passed up a chance to regain the lead when they missed their second penalty of the afternoon.
And with the final whistle less than quarter of an hour away, the hosts struck a blow to Bute’s chances when referee Charles Young pointed to the penalty spot for the fifth time in the game, Mackinlay stepping up to give Inveraray a 3-2 advantage.
But Bute still refused to allow their heads to drop, and the islanders were left fuming at Young’s decision not to award what looked like a clear penalty five minutes from time when James Craig was brought crashing to the ground by Douglas Dando just inside the area - the ball was cleared to the wing as the referee blew his whistle, but instead of giving a penalty, or even a direct free hit on the edge of the box, play was resumed where the ball had gone dead, a long way from the Inveraray goal.
Bute’s protests earned them nothing but two yellow cards - and Inveraray rubbed salt in their visitors’ wounds two minutes from the end when Leighton Reid conceded a direct free hit and MacPherson completed his hat-trick with a low drive through a ruck of players and into the net.
* This Saturday, April 2, Bute are back on home soil when North Division One side Caberfeidh make the long journey south from Strathpeffer to Rothesay for a preliminary round tie in the Scottish Hydro Electric Camanachd Cup.
Caberfeidh enjoyed a good result of their own last Saturday in the shape of a 4-0 Mactavish Cup win over Lochcarron, but Barry Martin told us Bute’s performance at Inveraray gave him plenty of cause for optimism.
“It’s going to be a hard game on Saturday,” he said, “and Caberfeidh seem to be doing quite well, but if we play the way we did at Inveraray, and everybody is on top of their game, we won’t have anything to fear.
“The most important thing is that we’re still training the way we did when we were a Premier League team and we’re still approaching every game in the same way.”
Throw-up at the Meadows on Saturday is at 2.30pm and players should meet no later than 1pm.