Pollok United kicked off this Glasgow & District League game knowing that a win would be the first defeat meted out to Milngavie for the entirety of the season; but also that a loss would hand their in-form opponents the league title.
Despite the high stakes, both teams opened the game without any obvious signs of nervousness.
Milngavie’s defence demonstrated early on that they would be tough to beat, collecting balls confidently from the air and stringing together passes deep within their own half.
Eight minutes passed before any flaw in their cover could be spotted, as Pollok’s Brogan Murphy breaking through his opponents’ back line in an attempt to latch onto a through ball. Ultimately, he was jostled out of possession and the ball rolled harmlessly for a goal kick.
The game’s first quarter was a tale of two number sevens: for Milngavie, Robbie Donaldson was dynamic and dangerous on the right wing, while United’s Lewis MacLeod was instrumental in most of his side’s more fruitful attacks.
Both controlled play and provided ample service for their teammates in forward positions. Donaldson would have the favour returned by Wanderers’ Kyle Campbell, who displayed great flair in attacking possession (not least in the 13th minute, when he beat two defenders with an impressive backheeled pass).
Ben Jenkins had been looking like a sure bet to influence the game, and he made good on that potential in the 27th minute.
Striker Kalvin Warren was on hand to pick up on his long cross into the penalty area, tipping the ball into the right-hand side of the net with an accurate header. 1-0 to Milngavie.
The home side looked to have the bit between their teeth after going ahead, and the delivery from the left wing remained top notch.
Their failure to capitalise further can largely be put down to the performances of Amir Khan, who proved to be an imperious defensive marker who never let a forward get away for long, and Scott Dryden, who pulled off some quality saves to keep his side in the game.
Defensive duties can be a thankless task – especially in a losing side – but those two deserve great credit for putting in professional shifts against tough challenges.
United’s mental toughness would be rewarded near the death of the first half. Brogan Murphy flicked a ball over his marker at the edge of Milngavie’s penalty area, and without another controlling touch launched an over-head kick above the ‘keeper and into the opposite side of the net for the equaliser. Jason McCartney – an otherwise highly capable presence in the Wanderers’ goal – was blameless against a piece of individual inspiration that there was simply no accounting for. At half-time it was one apiece.
The second half of the game began with the same energy the first had ended with. Pollok’s second half target man, Darren Albert, was almost put through by Sean McMillan as the second period began.
Kalvin Warren got a chance at the opposite end on 44 minutes, striking cleanly from a penalty box scramble, only to see his shot matched by an excellent diving save from goalkeeper Scott Dryden. David Robson could’ve put United ahead a minute later as he broke past Milngavie’s defence to slide a last-minute ball against the outside of the post.
Both teams were commendable in their determination to stick to the strategy of neat play that each had adopted in the first half. Despite the stalemate, there was no sign of long, hopeful lumps from defence to attack: everyone on the pitch was attempting to play their way into an advantageous position. Kyle Campbell continued to demonstrate his ability to pick out a pass for the home side, linking up well with Scott Hutton in attack.
The 50th minute would provide drama in the form of two free kicks. Jenkins would himself show a talent for seeking out a Milngavie striker, as he looped a dead ball over the defence and to the feet of Kalvin Warren, who shot into the net before being ruled offside; and Brogan Murphy would send a tremendous strike goalwards to be met by the hands of McCartney.
Thereafter, Milngavie would kick into top gear. Joe Slee was opportunistic in collecting the ball from a defensive mistake, and unlucky to see his effort on goal go just wide. Pollok defender Declan Coral made a couple of crucial last-minute interventions to keep United level. Aran McDonald threatened Dryden’s goalmouth when he set up a diving header for Kalvin Warren: Warren came agonisingly close to getting a touch, and one would assume that any contact would have put Milngavie 2-1 up.
That goal eventually came on 67 minutes, when McDonald collected the ball in the United half and, following a short dribble, blasted home from the edge of the box. From Milngavie’s celebrations, it was obvious that the goal had league title implications.
Pollok didn’t capitulate. Within a minute of being brought on as a substitute, Barry Turso came close to firing the visitors level with a long strike which hung in the air before landing just left of the Wanderers’ goalmouth. But the last piece of business in the game would fall to Milngavie’s attacker Slee, who robustly jostled defenders on a run which ended with a powerful shot past the goalie to seal a 3-1 win.
Milngavie won the league with a commanding display, then, against opponents who looked to have their number for large swathes of the game. Both Pollok and Wanderers can look to the last games of the season with pride and confidence.