Despite eventually going down to a 3-1 defeat to our old rivals, the Cubs probably put in their best performance of the season against the league leaders. Player manager Paul Stephen surprised many with his team selection, going with a 4-1-4-1 formation but the players employed in said formation took the game to the Rovers and rattled our unbeaten opponents early on.
Andy's Mac and Swinton were dominant in the middle of the park allowing King, Brownlee and Ager to press on and support lone frontman Hagger and it was this pressing game which eventually led to the Cubs opener with Ager able to burst past the Rovers defence to slot home after around 25 minutes. The opener came after a period of sustained pressure from the Cubs, with Rovers struggling to handle the long throws of King and McKendrick with Hagger missing with a good effort and King putting an effort wide of the goal. McMillan's set piece delivery also proved excellent throughout with Stephen putting an effort wide from a corner not long after Ager and Hagger were unable to get on the end of a lovely free kick from deep.
Rovers did eventually get a foothold in the half but were limited to very few chances with the Cubs defence playing as a solid unit behind the sideways shifting captain for the day McMillan who offered great protection as well as an out ball from defence. Rovers main chances came from rare Cubs mistakes with the commanding Eggo needing to be quick off his line after Stephen and Ross left the ball for each other to deal after both had put a name on it. Andrew Lawrie also made a rare mistake allowing the ball and the Rovers attack to get behind Eggo but his recovery was unbelievable as he acrobatically poked the ball off the line onto his own cross bar before calmly winning the second ball and playing the ball to the feet of Ager for a Cubs counter.
Rovers manager Allan replaced the rapid Scott Pringle, who Ross and Stephen had made look ordinary, with himself as Rovers went for a more physical approach in the latter period of the half. Stephen and Allan seemed to embark on a mini personal battle from here with Stephen using his larger than average frame more than once to draw cynical fouls from Allan who turned out to be quite a dirty player to play against. Perhaps taking revenge after raised studs high against him, Stephen fouled Allan in a dangerous area and had to be aware to head the ball out for a corner from the resulting dinked free kick. Allan tripped Stephen again at the resulting short corner as the ball was played out to Italian diving medallist Claudio at the edge of the Cubs box. A wall of purple however rushed out to block his effort in a real symbol of a brilliant 1st half performance from the Cubs.
Cubs had time for one more effort before half time with another corner being won due to the pressing of the Rovers defence. McMillan's back post cross found the unmarked Stephen whose header was shouldered off the backpost by a Rovers defender to prevent a welcome 2nd for the Cubs before half time.
We started the second half in a similar manner to the 1st pressing the Rovers defence high and winning a series of throw in's in deep areas which always seemed like they could provide an opportunity for us. Rovers however got an equaliser on the break in a moment which was sod's law for Callum Ross after a difficult week. Rovers wide player McCowan was put in behind the left hand side of the Cubs defence before sending a pacey low ball across the box (he would have tapped the cross bottom 3 times I reckon Lbp). What followed was the best goal of the match with Ross unfortunately hammering the ball home off his own cross bar with an effort Eggo claimed he didn't even set eyes on. Cubs rang the changes from here on in but unfortunately never really got our foothold back in the game as Rovers upped their game. Eggo made a good save to prevent a 2nd before Stephen travelled at pace he never knew he had to send a last man challenge off his own post. Rovers got their second however not long after as the game became stretched as the game got away from us. A third and final goal followed for the Rovers as the 3-1 win sealed the league win for Riverside.
Cubs can look back proudly on their performance as we more than matched a very good team for the majority of the game. A solid food and pint filled effort followed in the pub afterwards with the usual sweepies and banter (Dan Mejka TM) carrying on til about 5am for some of us. I personally felt minging starting work at 9am yesterday anyways.
We didn't win the match, but we played well and most importantly have the ethos of this team spot on at the moment. Team performance on the park and a good turn in the pub is what this team is meant to be about and long may it continue.
Man of the Match – Andrew Lawrie