AN UNDER-STRENGTH Bute team ground out what could prove to be a vital point on one of their furthest-flung away trips of the season in Kiltarlity on Saturday.
The island team made the long trip north with a squad comprising the bare minimum of 12 men - one, Jody Gibson, having been roused from his bed to come to the rescue only after the rest of the team assembled in the pre-dawn gloom at 6.30am - but the fringe players in the side staked an impressive claim for a regular starting slot after ending Lovat’s one hundred per cent start to the season in the Kiltarlity side‘s first home match of the campaign.
And indeed, the outcome might have been even better for the men in red, who were the better team for long periods, particularly in the first half, against a Lovat side who perhaps suffered a little from having had no game the previous Saturday.
Captain Robert Walker looked particularly dangerous in the opening 45 minutes, and came close to opening the scoring with the first real opportunity of the game; James Craig was bundled over on the edge of the D after latching on to a Jody Gibson cross, and Graham Fisher found Walker from the free hit, only for the Lovat keeper to block the skipper’s shot with his feet.
Ruairaidh Soane also looked in the mood, and had a shot scrambled away by the Lovat keeper after John McCallum returned a poorly-cleared corner back into the danger zone.
And Walker was denied by the home keeper for a second time from a Craig cross in to the edge of the D as Bute continued to search for a way through the well-organised Lovat defence.
But the islanders were unable to breach the home side’s back line before the break, and the absence of any substitutes to provide fresh impetus to the visitors’ efforts began to tell after the break as Lovat - who had begun the season with two impressive away wins, 2-1 at Kilmallie and 3-1 at champions Newtonmore on the opening day - slowly but surely gained the upper hand.
Bute’s Kevin Queen was by far the busier keeper in the second half, twice having to race from his line to thwart the hosts as they began to make hay down both wings.
But the calming influence of Hector Whitelaw, Iain MacDonald and David Whitelaw played an important part in keeping Bute on level terms, while John Beattie had a fine game against opponents with much more experience of top flight shinty.
Soane came close late on from a long MacDonald through ball in a rare Bute second half attack, but the roars of delight from the men in red when referee Innes Wood blew for full time confirmed that despite their first half superiority, an away draw was still a fine result for a team pared down to the bare bones.
Coach Barry Martin told The Buteman: “I was on a real low going up the road on Saturday morning with only 12 players, but I felt much better on the way home!
“Every one of the 12 did exactly what was asked of them - there wasn’t a failure in the whole team. I never felt we were really under the cosh at any time.
“I expected Lovat to really come flying at us, but they never caused us serious problems in any department. If you’d offered me two draws from our first three away games at the start of the season I’d definitely have taken it.”
* This Saturday, March 31, Bute’s first team have a potentially tricky tie away to Glenorchy in the first round of the AJG Parcels Celtic Society Cup.
The Dalmally side were relegated from the top flight at the end of last season, having finished without a league point, but have begun life in South Division One with three straight wins.
Throw-up at the Mart Park in Dalmally is at 2.30pm, and Bute’s first team players should meet at the garage at 11am.
Anyone not able to play is reminded that they must contact Barry Martin as far in advance as possible to say they are unavailable.