STUART STRATHIE and Robert Walker both scored twice as Bute stretched their 100 per cent league record to a fifth game against a plucky Lochside Rovers team on Saturday.
The islanders never quite hit top form against against a Lochside team who won South Division One only two years ago, but were prevented from gaining promotion due to the presence of their club’s senior team, Oban Camanachd, in the top flight, but the Bute players were nonetheless pleased at seeing their lead at the top of the table extended to three points – and the margin of victory could have been even more comfortable but for an outstanding display by Rovers keeper Robert Dunnings.
Lochside began the match in a mood to cause an upset, and after winning a couple of early corners the visitors fashioned the first real chance of the match, though Brian McCallum’s shot in the fifth minute following a Craig McDougall shy lacked the accuracy to trouble stand-in Bute keeper David MacDonald.
Graham Fisher was the first Bute player to get in a shot on goal, but his effort was easily dealt with by Dunnings, though a well-worked move culminating in a tempting cut-back by Walker from the by-line deserved better.
Strathie showed good skill to bring a John McCallum shy under control on the edge of the D before bearing down on Dunnings in the Lochside goal, but the Bute man’s shot under pressure flew high over the crossbar.
Dunnings pulled off the first of several fine saves when he blocked a Roberto Zavaroni shot on 17 minutes, but the Lochside keeper found himself under increasing pressure as Bute turned up the heat, and he had to look smart to deny Zavaroni and James Craig inside less than a minute.
But there was nothing Dunnings could do about the move which finally saw the deadlock broken in the 28th minute, when Zavaroni held up play well before releasing Strathie for a clear run in on goal which ended in a well-struck shot into the bottom corner of the net.
However, any thoughts that the first goal might put Bute on easy street were soon dispelled as Lochside, who were full of running throughout the first half, levelled matters only eight minutes later; Scott Maitland fired in a low cross from the right which Bute failed to clear, leaving David Devine in acres of space at the far post to shoot past MacDonald – the first goal Bute have conceded in the league this season.
Any furrowed brows in the Bute camp, though, disappeared three minutes before the break when David Whitelaw’s shy on the right was left by Fisher for Strathie at the back post, and his confident finish put the home side back in front.
Dunnings pulled off another great stop to deny Walker with the last move of the half, but a 2-1 interval lead gave Bute something useful to build on in the second half – and Dunnings was quickly in action affter the break, showing good reactions to keep out Zavaroni’s turn and shot.
Lochside, though, still refused to lie down, and they may well feel they should have levelled the game for a second time on 56 minutes after Bute failed to clear their lines following MacDonald’s poorly-struck bye-hit, only for Devine to send his shot wide of the target.
Walker had to leave the field for more than ten minutes to receive treatment to a nasty blow to the side of the head, received after an accidental clash with a Lochside opponent, and, Leighton Reid coming on in his place.
A tousy second half briefly threatened to boil over after referee Duncan Kerr initially failed to stop play when the ball got stuck in a tangle of players and turf, Zavaroni earning himself a yellow card for his protests, but things eventually calmed down – and the Bute camp were left breathing a good deal easier when Walker turned his man nicely after collecting a McCallum shy 15 minutes from time, and took the ball on for a few paces before drilling the third goal past Dunnings.
Zavaroni and Fisher were again denied by Dunnings as Bute went in search of the icing on their cake – and the fourth goal duly arrived five minutes from the end, when good work by Reid on the left set up Fisher for a nice ball across goal which Walker flicked home as he fell at the back post.
Reid, who had replaced the injured Strathie for the final 15 minutes, was joined by fellow substitutes Calum Hatton and Ruairidh Soane in the closing stages, the latter two making their first team debuts – all three having played earlier in the day in the Bute second team’s 9-0 league win over Aberdour - and all three showed signs of promise for the future through their brief senior appearances.
This Saturday, April 30, Bute are on home soil for the second week running; this time Ballachulish are the visitors to Rothesay for a South Division One league game.
Throw-up is at 2.30pm and players should meet no later than 1pm – anyone not available is asked to contact Barry Martin ASAP.