ROBERTO ZAVARONI scored twice as Bute’s senior team booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Camanachd Cup with a 5-1 home win over a youthful Glasgow Mid Argyll side on Saturday.
The islanders, harbouring hopes of reaching the tournament’s semi-finals for the third time in four years, were made to work hard for their place by a GMA side in the throes of re-adjusting after their relegation alongside Bute from the Premier League last year.
And while there were plenty of encouraging signs for the future of shinty in Scotland’s biggest city from the GMA display, Bute’s superior skill and fitness levels ensured there would be no cup upset.
The hosts started in positive mood, and were slightly unlucky not to take an early lead after a well-worked move saw Graham Fisher flick a David Whitelaw cross into the path of Gordon McMillan, who just failed to keep the ball under control.
But Bute were presented with a golden chance to take the lead when Paul Creighton was penalised for a kick inside the D in the 11th minute, and Hector Whitelaw hammered home the opener from the spot.
However, anyone expecting a stroll in the sunshine for Bute got a rude awakening when the visitors levelled matters just five minutes later, Fulton Ross slipping the equaliser into the net after the home defence was caught out by a high ball from Innes MacMillan.
Bute were forced to reshuffle when McMillan sustained a hand injury after half an hour, his place being taken by Leighton Reid, fresh from his 30 minutes for the club’s second team earlier in the day.
But the changes didn’t affect Bute’s rhythm – and in fact the hosts regained the advantage ten minutes before the break after a nice, flowing move in which Brian Liddle found Robert Walker in space on the left, and his tempting ball across the face of the D was smashed into the net by Zavaroni.
Walker thought he had doubled Bute’s lead in the final minute of the first half when he smashed Reid’s corner past GMA keeper Donald Oliver, only for the referee to disallow the goal for offside.
But the hosts had better luck with a virtual carbon copy of that ‘goal’ ten minutes into the second half – Reid again floating the corner into the middle for Walker, whose fine first-time finish gave Oliver no chance.
The outcome of the tie was settled three minutes later when Whitelaw’s cross was played across goal by Walker to allow Zavaroni a simple fourth, and Graham Fisher was rewarded for a solid afternoon’s hard graft up front when he ghosted in behind a defender to flick James Craig’s teasing cross into the net for goal number five.
Hopes were now high that Bute could go on and add a few more goals to put a real gloss on the scoreline, and Zavaroni was unlucky not to complete his hat-trick on 64 minutes with a shot which was beaten away by Oliver, Fisher driving the rebound just wide of the near post.
Donnie McDermid and Ruairidh Soane, having both completed the full 90 minutes for the Bute second team only a little earlier, were introduced to the action for the closing stages of the tie, and Soane came close to his first goal for the senior side with a well-struck shot which Oliver did well to stop with his stick.
And though there was no more scoring Bute could be well pleased with their afternoon’s work and the manner in which they booked their place in the last eight.
Bute are due to learn the identity of their Camanachd Cup quarter-final opponents on Thursday morning.
* Meanwhile, Neil McKirdy’s superb strike was the pick of the haul as Bute’s second team enjoyed a 5-3 home win over local rivals Col Glen in the first half of Saturday’s double bill at the Meadows.
McKirdy found the net with a ferocious drive after a well-worked team move, adding to a first half brace from Ali Carmichael and goals after the break from Duncan Simpson and Donnie McDermid as the island side got revenge for their 1-0 defeat at Glendaruel last month.
With a number of changes in personnel from the previous week’s win over Ballachulish, Bute took a little while to adjust early on, with Jamie McVicar, James Hamilton and Willie McVicar all trying their luck in the first ten minutes, though none of the trio was able to trouble returning Bute keeper John Whitelaw.
And Bute made their visitors pay for those early misses by taking the lead on 14 minutes, when John Beattie played a superb pass forward from midfield and Carmichael turned his man, ran on to the ball and slipped it past Col-Glen keeper Euan Harrison.
The pattern of the play changed almost immediately after that goal – and only six minutes later the home side doubled their advantage with a well-worked second, Carmichael firing low into the corner of the net after good build-up play involving McKirdy, McDermid and Simpson.
Iain MacKellar really should have brought the visitors back into the game midway through the first half, when a low ball across goal found him in acres of space at the back post – but he seemed to be caught by surprise by the arrival of the ball, and was unable to get his shot on target.
That miss was something of a lucky escape for Bute, who were beginning to look a little shaky at the back for the first time in the game, and Whitelaw had to look smart to block Peter Shuttleworth’s shot with his feet as the visitors turned up the heat.
And though Bute responded immediately, Simpson forcing Harrison into a good save with his stick from another high ball by Beattie, it was Col-Glen who struck next when Bute failed to clear a free hit and Hamilton was waiting at the back post to drill a low shot into the net.
The visitors finished the first half on the front foot, but good work by the Bute defence meant Col-Glen unable to put Whitelaw under any serious pressure – and Bute seized the initiative again at the start of the second period when Harrison blocked a McKirdy shot with his feet, only for Simpson to snap up the rebound to give the home side a 3-1 lead.
The loss of a third goal, though, stung Col-Glen into action – and the visitors were given a lifeline only four minutes later when Whitelaw sclaffed a bye-hit straight to Preston Shuttleworth, who wasted no time in finding the back of the net.
And things got worse for the hosts on 55 minutes when John Beany made the most of some hesitant defending to tie the score at 3-3.
Coach David Kilpatrick decided the hour mark was the ideal time for some fresh legs, bringing on Stuart Murray and Leighton Reid in place of John McIntyre and Jason Reid.
But after the rush of goals at the start of the second half, play soon settled down into a bit of a ding-dong midfield battle, with defences on top and few clear-cut goalscoring opportunities.
That, though, changed in spectacular style as the game approached its final 15 minutes, when Carmichael played a lovely ball over the top for Simpson to flick on to McKirdy, whose first-time drive flew past Harrison into the far corner of the net.
And this time there was to be no way back into the game for Col-Glen; Simpson was sure he’d made it five with a powerful drive on 79 minutes which Harrison somehow blocked with his caman, but only four minutes later McDermid finally made the points safe when his dangerous high ball into the D from wide on the right deceived Harrison as it dropped into the net.
* This Saturday, June 11, both Bute teams make the journey north to Glencoe for league fixtures against Ballachulish.
The match between the two clubs’ second teams, in South Division Two, gets under way at 12 noon, while the senior sides’ South Division One clash begins at 2.30pm.