This was the first game in charge for the new management pairing of brothers-in-law Paul Lawson formerly of Celtic, Ross County and Motherwell and his no 2, Dons legend, Russell Anderson who apart from collecting almost a dozen Scotland caps, had spells with Sunderland and Derby County. No lack of playing credentials there then. Paul is a few years younger than Russell and has definite aspirations to continue his playing career for a wee while longer and, for this game, listed himself as a sub. To further emphasise the family affair here, teenage centre back Jevan Anderson who was recruited from the Dons over the summer close season, is the son of Russell of that ilk, and therefore the nephew of Paul.
Anyone expecting a dramatic change in the starting eleven would be severely disappointed. The new duo sent out the exact same starting eleven for this encounter as caretaker boss Jerry O Driscoll had fielded in midweek against Lossiemouth. It would have been surprising had they rung the changes as that side ran out impressive 6-1 winners on Wednesday night and anyone dropped after that display would have had justified cause to complain.
The new duo got the best possible start to their tenure with the second fastest opening goal in the clubs Highland League history when Liam Burnett delivered with a back stick header after 21 seconds of play (the fastest was in 8 seconds by Stuart MacKay against Forres five years ago). It was not just the timing of this goal that was superb, the manner of its execution was simply top drawer stuff and the opposition never had a kick of the ball before they had to fish it out from the back of the net. From the kick off it was slipped forward and then back and left into the path of the advancing full back Smith who drove on down the flank before passing it forward to Barbour. MacPhee then took the ball left to right then right to left along the edge of the Keith penalty area attracting defenders like ants to a picnic. They might as well have been ants for all the chance they had of getting the ball off him. With a dummy and a turn he made the space from which to flip it over to the back stick and as he had attracted so many defenders with his waltz across the box, Liam BURNETT pressing on from midfield had as much space as a time lord to pick the spot at which his powerful header was delivered to the net. Thats two goals in two games for the youngster who has just broken in to first team contention this season.
It looked like United were going to overwhelm their visitors and for the next twenty minutes or thereby that is pretty well what they did. The tempo was high and the passing as crisp as the crust on a sour dough loaf. Wing backs Smith and Dingwall alternated in the fetch and carry stuff down the flanks supporting midfielders Burnett, Berton, Rodger and Ferries each of whom had little compunction about running directly at and often round those visitors unfortunate enough to attempt to dispossess them. Supply to the front two of MacPhee and Barbour was abundant and Keith were pinned back into their own territory more often and for far longer than they would wish. Shots rained in on Deys goal and the young keeper did well to parry, block or hold on-target efforts from both strikers as well as all the midfielders. A curling cross cum shot from defender Dingwall had him back pedaling before going full stretch to tip the ball over the top for an unrewarded corner.
The response from Keith was to break at pace on a few occasions. Kai Ross has a bit of the old fashioned bustling centre forward about him and made a few forays into the area immediately short of the United penalty box but support was usually a tad late in arriving or he was dispossessed by the lanky presence of centre back Jevan Anderson or outsmarted by the wily old head of the the other Anderson who orchestrated both defence and distribution from deep with calm authority.
Another Formartine goal was as near to being a racing certainty as anything ever is in football and the odds on it coming from the left boot of MacPhee were shorter than a Ladbrokes biro. Towards the end of a period of sustained pressure towards the left side of the final third Barbour played in MACPHEE who was being fairly closely attended to by Spink and Clark. With a wee shimmy here and a twist or two there, he managed to manoeuvre himself into a gap to the right of them and swivelling round left clattered the ball well beyond the reach of DEY from 18 yards out. However, this cracker of a goal more or less marked the end of Uniteds best phase of the game.
It is hard to say whether with such dominance and such a high pace, high energy approach that United were going to slow down at some point or whether having established a two goal lead within 20 minutes or so, they felt justified in taking their collective foot off the pedal. Either way the impetus faded and never returned until somewhere around the last fifteen minutes.
Despite this United still maintained the lions share of possession and moved the ball about confidently but the difference between this phase and the earlier one was that to begin with they moved the ball about and forced things to develop whereas for the guts of an hour they moved the ball about waiting for things to develop. The more they did this the better were Keith able to retain their shape and the less threat United offered.
Five minutes after this, in the 24th minute, Ferries was withdrawn, presumably having picked up an injury and replaced by Kieran Lawrence. Lawrence, still a midfielder, is a different style of player from Ferries whose game is more about pace and aggression and although the young sub acquitted himself creditably, the absence of the Ferries factor may have contributed to the slow down.
The second half (or at least the first half hour of it) was a much more evenly balanced affair. Keith spent more time in United territory than they had in the first period but still United were by and large in control. Keith never really looked like they had the penetrative powers to trouble the United rearguard. Jevan Anderson did the simple things well and positioned himself well to clear his lines when needed and both backs gave little away. The two unrelated Andersons played the ball about comfortably at the back and although United exerted nothing like the pressure they had in the first twenty minutes, both Barbour and MacPhee forced good saves from Dey and around the hour mark United sustained a period of siege to the visiting goal area that produced five successive corners all of which created some sort of chaos but none of which did more than that either.
Gethins came on as a sub for Burnett in 71st minute but had to be withdrawn with an injury a few minutes later. United having used all three subs as Jevan Anderson had limped off with a thigh injury in the 64th to be replaced by Michie, they were reduced to ten men. They coped admirably by raising the tempo again and for the last 15 despite numerical deficiency, dominated the visitors until the end.
Formartine United: MacDonald, Dingwall, Smith, J Anderson, Burnett, Berton, Rodger, S.Anderson, Ferries, MacPhee, Barbour. Subs: Gethins, Lawson, MacIntosh, Lawrence, Michie, Sim.
Keith: Dey, Spink, Ralton, Clark, Robertson, Manson, Hutcheon, Ross, Brownie, Whelan, Smith. Subs: Fraser, Buxton, Sopel, MacNamee, Begg, MacAskill, McKinnon