Report by: DEAN THOMSON
The Strollers went in to this league fixture confident that the slick passing play they have regularly produced this season, would be too hot for Mashucubia to handle once again.
With newly appointed Gaffer - Craig Campbell - and host of new faces at the club, LBG clocked up a 1-0 victory against newly formed Mashucubia in the second league fixture of the season, back in August. Although a lot of work was to be done in subsequent training sessions, there were glimpses of Craig's 'on the deck passing game' even then.
Over half way through the campaign and many league wins under their belt, the Strollers were sure of another 3 points here, which would take them in to pole position, not forgetting Redhall and Hermiston Vale have many fixtures to catch up on.
Mashucubia have had a difficult entry into the amateur game, with only 9 points to show for so far this season. However, news of several new signings last week, including the arrival of two ex CS Strollers players and an ex Hibs Youth Academy player, are sure to turn the fortunes of the North Edinburgh outfit.
The 3G surface paid dividends to both teams and some slick passing was on display from the first whistle. It was Mashucubia who showed more hunger however and they were 1 in front with a well deserved goal on the counter attack. With their striker and right winger already showing signs of pace and power, it wasn't going to be an easy afternoon for the Strollers back 4, especially resident left back Euan Watt, who has cemented his spot in there after some solid defensive displays. The back line were however missing regular centre half Tom Reade. The Big Scouser has had an excellent season so far and his absence was showing after only 10 minutes played.
Conceding the goal appeared to spark more life in to The Strollers, who started to dominate possession and create several chances, but to no avail. Ritchie Paul was handed his first start of the season ahead of the injured David Hitchen at Right Midfield and has given Campbell a real selection headache after showing a desire and determination to make the No. 7 jersey his own. Ritchie was hungry for the ball at every Strollers attack and linked up very well with Greg Wallace at Right Back at the two centre forwards, Clement and Gaunt. Gaunt has produced some promising displays since being shifted from a wider position, but looked frustrated at his lack of chances on goal today.
For all of their possession and chances in the first quarter of the match, Strollers were to find themselves 2 down, after a slack back-pass from Centre Half Chris Tomarelli, was pinched by the opposing striker who ended up very lucky to hit the net, given Goalkeeper Allan's excellent attempt to shut him down. There was a sense that this wasn't going to be Strollers 'day' as it has been so many times this season.
Half time was a welcoming re-group for the home side who appeared to be over-run in central midfield. McPherson and Thomson were struggling with the 3 in midfield set up that allowed Mashucubia to dominate the middle of the ring in this fiercely contested, gloves off bout, that saw several free kicks conceded for late tackles in the early stages. It was night and day from the demolition of Standard Life only a few weeks earlier, with both the Skinny No 6 and the Big No 8 scoring twice each in that game. Despite a request to change the formation, manager Campbell urged the Strollers to cut out the sloppy mistakes and be more clinical with the chances that they continued to create in to the final 45.
The second half started with the same 11, but didn't last long. Although Strollers top scorer for the season, Graeme Clement, glanced a beautifully placed header in to the top bin, from yet another dangerous Ritchie Paul cross on 55 minutes, the striker and Vice Captain Dean Thomson, who is still struggling with his fitness levels at present, made way for Aaron Searl and Chris Banks, who worked hard to create chances, in particular Bank's who made some really positive runs down the right hand side. Campbell looked to left winger Andy Langstaff's energy levels, to compete better in centre midfield after Thomson pulled on a subs jacket. Ritchie Paul gave way for Kevin Hentges shortly after. Hentges - having started most games in midfield this season - is now fighting for a first 11 shirt again, after a couple of poor performances saw him unlucky to be handed the 14 jersey this week. Campbell has built an excellent squad this year and last season's Most Improved Player, Gregg Carson, who has been excellent at times when playing ahead of Club Captain Greg Wallace, at his favoured right-back spot, was unlucky not to be used along with Veteran Left Back Davey Annand, who was welcomed back to the Strollers after a lengthy spell out following a serious shoulder injury at the tail end of last season. Campbell's tactics being that attacking subs were needed to chase an equalising goal.
For all of the Stroller's good offensive work, they struggled to find any quality in the final ball and it was to prove costly. To give credit to the away side, they defended extremely well at times, they dominated midfield and were very productive on the counter attack, again due the pace of their wingers and strikers. On 70 minutes, there was a touch of de-ja-vu for Cubia's third goal when Tomarelli again looked to the aid of his No 1 with a headed back pass, but it was again too short, and the fresh legged substitute unwrapped yet another gift from the Strollers and dinked it calmly over a bemused Allan's head. This was to be the decisive goal. Despite the two short back-passes, Tomarelli partnered well with resident Centre Half Melvyn Dillon, and a good performance against a very dangerous front pairing was unfortunately clouded by two costly mistakes.
The players produced a rare poor attitude at training prior to this match and looked ill-prepared to dominate this game as they should have. This defeat was a wake up call that, although they have played some teams off the park this year, nobody can be taken for granted. With a few difficult fixtures closing the campaign over the next few weeks, Lloyds need to regroup and find their old form, to be sure of a 3rd place league finish.
The Strollers are back in action in the 1st round Anderson Cup next week, meeting West Lothian outfit Shotts Victoria, who are having an excellent season so far.