Grit and guile guide Bute to win

STUART MURRAY and Ali Carmichael were the men on target as Bute’s second team continued their impressive start to the season against their Argyll counterparts at the Meadows on Saturday.

But maximum points for the island side were not assured until keeper John Whitelaw kept his composure to deny Inveraray’s Lewis McNicol with a fine save in the tenth minute of stoppage time.

The hosts were put under growing pressure in the second half after McNicol responded to Bute’s two first half strikes – but some cool heads at the back and some hard work in midfield ensured the islanders maintained their unbeaten start to the new campaign.

With a squad of 17 players to choose from, including young Lewis Poole, who was named among the substitutes for the first time, coach David Kilpatrick urged his side to keep things simple in the early stages.

And it was an approach which paid off after only seven minutes, when Ruairidh Soane’s shy from the right found Murray 20 yards from goal – and though his first attempt at a shot missed the ball completely, he still had time to steady himself for a second try, this time giving ‘Aray keeper Andy Macpherson no chance with a sweetly-struck drive into the corner of the net.

Bute grew in confidence after taking the early lead, and Carmichael had two attempts on goal in rapid succession in the 12th minute, seeing his first effort deflected wide from a corner after a short Soane free hit before firing wide from the resulting set-piece.

Inveraray had to wait until the midway point of the first half for their first attempt on the Bute goal, but Whitelaw was equal to the task, watching carefully before swiping McNicol’s shot clear after a quick free-hit by Andrew Sinclair.

And the home side had a lucky escape when Gordon Watt’s corner caught the Bute defence on the hop on 25 minutes, Sam Moncur hitting the post from the cross before Gordon Pirie struck the crossbar from the rebound.

Bute, though, might have doubled their lead within a few seconds of that let-off when a quick counter-attack saw the ball played forward to Neil McKirdy in space, but the big forward blasted his shot high over the bar.

But the hosts didn’t have to wait too much longer to enjoy better luck in front of goal, Calum Hatton showing quick thinking to play a short free hit to Carmichael, who made the most of some slack Inveraray defending to drill a shot low past Macpherson and into the net.

Craig McFarlane shot just wide after good work by Hatton and Murray to win possession on the edge of the D as Bute went in search of a third, and Macpherson had to look smart to turn Hatton’s low drive past the post as attackers and defenders alike waited for a cross, rather than a shot.

The visiting keeper was at his best from the resulting corner, too, pushing Murray’s shot away with his outstretched hand, and Bute went into their half-time huddle encouraged by a fine opening 45 minutes.

Two Bute substitutes were introduced at the start of the second half, Duncan Simpson and Tom McMillan coming on in place of McFarlane and McKirdy, and the two fresh faces almost had an immediate impact, Simpson combining well with Murray just 20 seconds after the restart to set up McMillan for a shot which was only a foot or so wide of goal.

Carmichael looked a safe bet to add a third for Bute on 58 minutes after he slipped his marker 30 yards from goal and bore down on Macpherson in goal, only to lose control of the ball at the last, vital moment.

And the visitors hit back two minutes later with a well worked counter-attack which culminated in John Mackenzie’s nice flick on to McNicol, who had the time and space he needed to halve the deficit with a low drive past Whitelaw.

Adam Stirling was the last of Bute’s three permitted substitutes to enter the fray, coming on in place of Murray for the final quarter of the match, but despite the fresh legs in red jerseys it was Inveraray who looked the stronger side in the closing stages, Mackenzie sending a shot inches over the bar from a smart Sinclair pass.

Soane, who put in another tireless shift on the wing, very nearly put the game out of the visitors’ reach with ten minutes left when he tried his luck with a 40-yard lob from wide on the right which dropped only a foot or so wide of target.

Pirie came close with a well hit shot from a tight angle four minutes from the end of regulation time, but Bute weathered the storm – and could have made the points safe a minute into stoppage time when McMillan played in McFarlane on the edge of the D, but the big forward’s shot was just wide of goal.

With referee Gus Campbell stopping his watch at almost every break in play, there was still plenty of time for further twists in the tale of an entertaining match – and seven minutes into added time Bute were presented with a glorious opportunity to seal the points when Carmichael was tripped inside the D – but passed up the chance to make the game safe by firing his penalty just wide of Macpherson’s left hand post.

And Bute very nearly paid a heavy price in the tenth minute of additional time when Inveraray launched a quick counter-attack, working the ball forward to McNicol, who embarked on a solo run in on the Bute goal – only to watch in anguish as his shot was beaten away by the cool-headed Whitelaw.

“That’s what it’s all about,” the delighted Bute coach David Kilpatrick told us after the game.

“I can’t say enough about the guys – Adam Stirling did well after he came on, Davie MacDonald was his usual calming influence at the back, and I thought Johnny McIntyre had a fantastic game.

“Ruairidh and Calum were brilliant on the wings again, and it was good to see Tom McMillan back after injury.

“All I can say is that I’m happy. That’s what happens when you put the effort in at training during the week.”

This Saturday, April 2, Bute aim to continue their successful start to this season’s league campaign with a South Division Two fixture away to Ballachulish, who picked up their first points of the season last weekend with a fine 3-1 win over the fast-improving Glasgow Mid Argyll.

The game gets under way at 2.30pm, and players will be advised of travel arrangements at training.