Whilst planning my travel to Huntly earlier in the week, I became curious as to how the Highland League club have been doing this season and the chances of LTHV entering 4th Round territory. That would have been unthinkable when I watched them play their first match against Girvan. Not because they played badly, but due to their lower league status and the sub-conscious acknowledgement that they would be ‘found out’ against higher league opposition. Before I even got to Huntly’s latest results, the front page of their website announced the resignation of the now former manager. Personal reasons were cited which is never nice to read. However the results have not been good either. Huntly have not won in the league since October 3rd, with their only win since coming against East Stirlingshire in the Cup. They’ve suffered some heavy defeats in the past five matches, so I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about LTHV’s chances. In all competitions this season, LTHV have only drawn twice and lost once. An outstanding achievement so far. This only backs up everything I have written about the team to this point, and further endorsing their reputation as a very good footballing side.
I also unearthed some new insight into LTHV’s history the night before we embarked on our 14 hour round trip. I read a cracking article on the Scottish FA website about the clubs youth academy – known as ‘Hutchie’ – and the plethora of now famous players who have passed through. John Collins, Gary Caldwell, Kenny Miller, Steven Whittaker, Allan McGregor, Jason Cummings, Sam Nicholson and Leigh Griffiths are a few. A number of the aforementioned have also played in the so called ‘best league in the world’, England’s very own Premier League. It now didn’t seem so strange to see a lower league side in LTHV play such good football, and conduct themselves so well on and off the pitch.
Just arrived, bleary eyed, in the Highlands
Red eye train into Glasgow City Centre
The LTHV team went up the night before, but myself and my Dad’s day started with a 6.30am alarm and a 7.30am train into town. From there we filled ourselves with coffee and a roll & sausage, before catching the 8.40am train to Aberdeen. It was around 1pm by the time we arrived into Huntly so we had a look around to get a feel for the town, whilst looking for places to grab some lunch.
I got a good feel about the place with its traditional cottages, town square and historic castle. The town was pretty sleepy with most shops closed for the weekend – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Glasgow city centre on a Saturday afternoon. I even remarked to my Dad that I can see why people go to church on a Sunday in small towns like Huntly (population less than 5,000). I would imagine there to be a good community spirit about the place. After walking around for 10/15 minutes it was agreed a pint was top priority so we found ourselves in The Royal Oak. Just after sitting down to our first pint we were treated to some really good live music by someone called Chris Grant. He even tried to enlist us as the two newest supporters of his beloved Keith FC, who are only a short 15 minute drive from Huntly. We decided to stick to MUFC, but firstly LTHV.
I had previously been in touch with the club to enquire if they could put a small article in their match day programme for me, to advertise my blog and what I’m doing. Unfortunately all the space had been taken up with advertising or previously agreed content. However Alix, who I had been corresponding with at the club, very kindly put a post on their Facebook page which was a nice touch and something to put a smile on our faces. I think this has been my biggest bout of small-time fame to date; so cheers Alix.
After a few pints we marched off to the ground which was only 5 minutes away, in search of a warm pie and some Cup football. Everything is so affordable at this level, with entry being £8 and a couple of pies and warm drinks costing less than a fiver. The ground itself was tidy and intimate. However the pitch wasn’t in the best condition with a slight slope up towards the dugout area, and the surface being full of bobbles (technical term).
Myself and my Dad looking on in the 1st half. Picture is courtesy of Huntly Football Club’s official website
We started off standing across from the main stand, amongst the ‘hardcore’ support. Just like previous matches LTHV’s number 11 never fails to get stick for his likeness to Gareth Bale. He’s also a good footballer, and it’s been said you tend to get more abuse when the opposition supporters recognise your talents. However it was Huntly’s number 9 who scored the first goal, with a fortunate bounce off the uneven turf taking the ball away from it’s natural path and past the keeper. It was evident that LTHV were struggling to get used to the pitch and unable to play their usual passing game, with the ball bouncing up every time they tried to gain some possession and control on the match. The first 45 minutes were in Huntly’s favour as their high pressing and tempo game unsettled the lads from Edinburgh. They had a few chances to extend their lead before the break, and I feared they would do just that and soak everything up in the second half. Thankfully it stayed 1-0 to set it up for an exciting second half.
My Dad and I thought this could finally be the end of our run watching Hutchie. I should have learnt already not to doubt them. On Saturday we saw a different side to the team we have watched the past few matches. They dug in ground out a draw which never looked likely until Scott Gormley equalised with 20 minutes to go. LTHV broke through the defence and the ball was squared for a simple tap-in. They had to adapt to the different conditions and physicality of their opponents. Hustle’s style of play isn’t as kind on the eye as that of LTHV’s – in my opinion. They used their experience well and seemed to ruffle the feathers of LTHV, especially in the first 45 minutes. That said, this is the first time I have seen the men from Aberdeenshire play, so I remain optimistic that there would be more to come if they are to win the replay. On this occasion they seemed more akin to a strong, physical side who like to play on the counter. Regardless of this they are still in the Cup and have an equal chance of progressing when they make the trip to Edinburgh this weekend.
Just before the ref blew to signal confirmation of a replay, LTHV’s number 6 (apologies as I can’t remember his name) was sent off for a second bookable offence. As he ran into the box the Huntly defender shouldered him off the ball, but the referee deemed it a dive and gave him his second yellow. The highlights are actually on the BBC website. If you watch it you don’t need your glasses to see that it was most definitely not a dive. I hope the club appeal the decision as it’s extremely unjust for him to miss the replay. If the ref was to blow for anything, it should have been a penalty. We’ve all seen penalties given for much less.
Nonetheless it finished 1-1 and the draw was made this afternoon. The winner of Saturday’s replay has been awarded an away tie against Stenhousemuir or East Kilbride. I would prefer a trip to ‘Stenny’ as East Kilbride is only up the road from me, and somewhere I have been many times growing up. Seeing new towns/cities and grounds was a big motivation for doing this, and Stenhousemuir not somewhere I can envisage myself going in the near future.
This Saturday at 3pm is the replay at Saughton Enclosure. I had already pre-arranged to meet up with some mates this weekend, so I’m not yet sure if I’ll make it along. Perhaps I’ll get them up north and we can all enjoy the match. Either way, I’ll be keeping up to date with the score over the course of the afternoon. I hope both teams, especially LTHV, play with less trepidation, and a great end to end cup tie is played out. I doubt you’ll hear either team echoing my comments though.