On a very wet windy Saturday at Annan, a feast of football looked unlikely and that turned out to be the correct assessment.
The flat 3G pitch at Annan is a lot better than the heavy muddy slope they used to have and the stadium is looking good, with the brand new covered terracing behind the goals at the clubhouse end fully open for the first time.
Montrose lined up with McKenzie in goal then Crawford, Campbell, Wood and McIntosh across the back. Webster and Watson were in midfield, and Johnston played just behind the front three of Deasley, Ferguson and Reid, with Ferguson taking up the central role for his full Montrose debut. On the bench were Gray, McCord, Sturrock, Wilson, Duguid and Bonar with McCafferty the back-up ‘keeper.
Annan had a makeshift looking side with key players MacKay, Love and Watson and Weatherston all out. The referee was Euan Anderson who had a very good afternoon.
The game started slowly with nothing of note created at either end. Swinglehurst marshalled his Annan defence well and the Montrose centre backs Wood and Campbell dealt capably with what came their way.
Scott Johnston scampered down the right for Montrose but was dispossessed near the corner flag and Annan broke away quickly, too quickly, and were offside. Lots of midfield ping-pong followed before another Annan attack which Wood intercepted well and sent Johnston away down the right again, but that fizzled out.
Play was pulled back for a Montrose free kick and Watson shot from outside the box but over the bar. Webster was imposing in midfield and slotted a rare good looking ball through for the onrushing pair of Deasley and Ferguson, but it was deflected by the seemingly telescopic leg of Swinglehurst.
On 22 minutes Todd, probably the best player on the park, hit a clean shot from 25 yards which McKenzie was relieved to watch go past his left post. Annan were putting Montrose under a bit of pressure and Wood did well to get away an awkward wind-affected bouncing ball. From a throw-in Jamie Reid sped down the left and put over a great cross but there was too much pace on it for Ferguson who glanced his header wide in what turned out to be the best Montrose chance of the first half.
The visitors won their first corner coming up to the half-hour mark and Reid put over a great inswinger but there were no takers and Annan countered quickly down the left.
Garry Wood was defending with assured authority but the rest of the back line was also looking comfortable. Nearing half-time Montrose were still finding it hard to create anything from midfield and the strikers had little to feed on.
There followed a strange incident. Annan’s Scott Davidson went down holding his head and the referee stopped the game as Montrose were attacking. The Annan trainer came on and rubbed Davidson’s back, not his head, and almost immediately he sped back on to the pitch and hit a cracking shot which rattled the Montrose woodwork.
Ferguson at the other end just could not get into the game and was well marshalled by the much taller Swinglehurst. Deasley fired in a low cross which was defended well by the home side. Then Reid laid one on for Watson who shot high and wide when on another day the ball might easily have flown in.
Half-time: Annan 0, Montrose 0.
The second half started with the Montrose fans hoping not to be caught cold – but that’s what happened.
In the 47th minute a low ball found its way into the centre of the six-yard box. There were several attempts to clear but it fell to JOSH TODD who scuffed at it and the end result was through McKenzie’s legs from very close range, and into the net for a soft goal.
For a spell after the goal the game got a bit heated and Gable Endie supporters hoped this would be the trigger for their side to step up a gear, but the referee twice penalised Montrose when they were looking to break clear. The second free kick looked particularly harsh on Wood who was clearly standing his ground as an opponent backed into him. From the free kick by Peter Bradley, McKenzie saved well and sent Watson away down the left, only for him to be stopped in his tracks by a bad looking ankle tackle. Reid overhit the resultant free kick.
Manager Stuart Garden threw on McCord and Sturrock to try to freshen things up and salvage something as the game drifted towards the 70th minute. Off came Ferguson and Reid. McCord had an immediate impact as he took control of midfield and probed intelligently going forward. Sturrock provided fresh energy but found it hard to get into the game. Johnston, in his usual busy bee style, found a way through only for the very large boot of a defender to show how a dangerous situation should be dealt with – the ball probably well out to sea by now, assisted by the fast flowing nearby River Annan.
The first and only yellow card of the afternoon was shown to Alan Campbell in the 72nd minute. His long-legged challenge looked to have made contact with the ball and although it was by no means a dirty game worse challenges had previously and probably rightly gone unpunished. From the free kick the ball was swung out wide by Annan, and Brannon should have done better with his finish.
After another McKenzie save Watson had another half chance and went close from a Crawford cross after the latter had done well to stop an Annan attack and turn it into a counter attack down the right. But Montrose were only creating half chances and in difficult conditions overhead they were not easy to convert.
On came Orsi and off went Davidson. Montrose reacted by pushing Wood up front alongside Deasley, Sturrock and Johnston with Webster, Watson and McCord in behind.
In the very last few minutes it was all Montrose, with McIntosh feeding McCord who flashed one wide, then a McCord free kick was blocked. A 30-yard free kick by Watson was desperately blocked by a defender.
With the very last throw of the dice McKenzie lofted a huge kick downfield with the wind. For once it eluded the head of Swinglehurst. Deasley was alert and on it in a flash with only the ‘keeper to beat.
Unfortunately the leg-weary Deasley blasted it high and wide into the training area behind the goalmouth. Referee Anderson blew for time having played three extra minutes as Annan were relieved to troop off the field with a fortunate three points to keep their play-off hopes on track.
Montrose were left with nothing to show after a long journey except for another long journey back home. There was no lack of effort but Montrose lack threat and creativity going forward which is something manager Garden will be well aware of.
Although no single player stood out above the rest the back line and the ‘keeper deserve a lot of credit. Garry Wood shaded Man of the Match mainly because he has adapted to his new centre back role.
Montrose: McKenzie, Crawford, McIntosh, Campbell, Wood, Webster, S. Johnston, Watson, Ferguson (McCord), Deasley, Reid (Sturrock). Substitutes: Gray, Wilson, Duguid, Bonar and McCafferty.