Bathgate Thistle were deeply disappointed to leave Central Park with just a point after a game in which they created many chances despite being reduced to ten men after 40 minutes.
The Jags travelled to take on local rivals Whitburn on matchday 3 of the 2016/17 season. On a beautifully sunny evening Andrew Colley was forced to shuffle his pack significantly for the third game in a row. Stuart McLeod was still out through injury, Hassan Nyang was completing his suspension, David Taylor and Darren MacIsaac were missing through work commitments and Reece Boyle was on holiday. Without a recognised central defender the Jags backline was composed of Jamie Clark and George Bonnar at centre half with Darren McIntosh and Ritchie Hutton at full back. Midfield consisted of Sid Easton, Iain Griffin, Gordon Harris and Rhys Minnock with Darren Dalrymple and Robbie Feeney up front.
With the low evening sun shining brightly on Whitburn Bathgate kicked the game off. The Jags immediately tried to impose their passing game on their opponents. The bumpy pitch was not proving to be too much of an impediment and it certainly wasnt stopping Easton taking the ball for a run as he injected some early pace into the match. Whitburn were looking to go long early and a ball over the top was met by Bonnar who headed back to the outrushing Watson in goals who smothered the threat.
Bathgate were using the width of the pitch to get into dangerous areas and twice in quick succession Harris (on the left) and Easton (on the right) got to the bye-line but their cross balls were defended by the home side.
Bathgate had a double chance to open the scoring shortly after when Harris let fly from 25 yards. His fizzing shot could only be parried by the goalie and Dalrymple pounced onto the loose ball. He was forced wide by the defender and the chance looked to be lost but he brilliantly won the ball back just out side the 6 yard box and his shot across the face of goal looked to be heading in but for a touch from Horne in goals.
Bathgate’s next opportunity came from a long ball by Bonnar out of defence which dropped to Dalrymple on the edge of the box but his shot was straight at the keeper.
Bathgate took the lead when Dalrymple collected the ball just inside the Whitburn half after some scrappy play. He took one touch and played the ball into Feeney who was running towards goal. He looked up and seeing the keeper off his line hit a long range dipping shot which the keeper palmed into the net. It was no more than Bathgate deserved after such a positive start to the game. 0-1
Easton, whose quick bursts with the ball were becoming an ever increasing presence in the game, combined with Feeney to set up the striker for a shot from the area that never quite had the direction or power to provide his second. Then Whitburn had an effort from the edge of the box after some neat passing set up Bain for a shot.
Bathgate passed up a gilt-edged opportunity when Easton again ran through defence and slipped in Minnock for a shot. The young midfielder though wasn’t able to hit the target despite the lack of defenders.
Whitburn had been largely anonymous up front but were denied a leveller by brilliant goalkeeping when the ball dropped to a Whitburn striker 6 yards out after a ball from the left hand side. It really was an excellent point blank save by Watson who showed lightning reflexes to keep the ball out.
Shortly afterwards and just before halftime there was major controversy when Bathgate’s McIntosh was shown a straight red card for a late challenge midway inside his own half. There is no doubt that the tackle was late and merited a yellow but the showing of a red seemed incredibly harsh and The Jags were down to 10 men. The resulting free kick actually hit the outside of the post but the danger was cleared and the referee ended the half. HT 0-1
Bathgate were forced into a 4-4-1 formation after the break with Dalrymple dropping into the left of midfield and Harris replacing McIntosh at left back. An early chance for Whitburn came when they won a free kick on the left wing. It found a Whitburn head but the effort was weak and lacked direction.
The home side were enjoying more possession but weren’t threatening the Jags goal. Watson was largely a spectator and was only having to come and collect the long balls that were being played every so often. Iain Griffin was also working extremely hard to win back any lost possession. Unfortunately, he had to come off after picking up a knock and was replaced by Grant MacDonald. Bathgate won a free kick by the corner flag and Dalrymple’s driven cross ball almost squeaked in at the back post until it was cleared off the line to safety.
Dalrymple should have scored when Easton cut in from the right side of midfield and played a pass which caught the Whitburn defenders out and ran into the forwards path. With just the keeper to beat he shot straight at the goalie and the danger was cleared.
Although they were a man short and had limited possession Bathgate were still looking the team most likely to score. They were breaking at pace and Easton had a shot from the edge of the area which went narrowly wide. So when the equaliser came it was hard for the away side to take. Whitburn had seen a long ball drift out wide for a shy. There seemed little danger as the long throw came in but Jordan Bain managed to get a flick on and Callum Robertson rose highest to send the ball back across the goal and into the net. It was cruel on Bathgate who had defended brilliantly with a man down and never looked like conceding. 1-1
Immediately they tried to go on the front foot and get the winner that they deserved. Jamie Clark got his head to a free kick but it went wide.
Easton then tried to take matters into his own hands. He picked the ball up inside his own half and carried it to the half-way line; playing a lovely give-and-go with Dalrymple that he chased down. He cut into the box, beating three defenders in the process, before finding himself eight yards from goal. Had his finish found the back of the net it would surely have been an early contender for goal of the season – across all grades – but his shot was tired and he spooned it over the bar. Jordan Thomson then replaced Feeney who had tired after leading the line himself.
There was still time for more controversy when right at the death Whitburn thought they had sprung the offside trap and stole a winner when Callum Robertson slotted in from an acute angle. The ref blew for offside right away in fairness but it looked like a close call and perhaps the striker had just managed to stay level. It mattered not as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
The whole Bathgate side were gutted at the result but it was hard to feel anything else other than proud of the way in which The Jags had played and on another day they may have won by four or five goals. FT 1-1
Bathgate: Watson, McIntosh, Clark, Bonnar, Hutton, Harris, Easton, Griffin, Minnock, Feeney, Dalrymple Subs: Thomson, MacDonald, Nimmo (T)
Whitburn: Horne, Hamilton, McQueenie, Porteous, Gardner, Skinner, Taylor, Martin, Robertson, Brass, Bain Subs: Henderson, Wilson, Gunn, Hogarth, Fairbanks
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