2003/2004: Scottish Premiership One



A. Bulloch15R. Seib
R. Watson14D. Millard
R. West13K. Mitchell
I. Leighton12L. McCann
I. Kennedy11W. Rogers
C. Pothan10K. Oddie
S. Cowan9M. McLean
C. Birchall1S. Corsar
G. Inglis2I. Stanger
C. Hastie3R. Stark
I. Smith4R. McKay
A. Williamson5J. Officer
L. Hazelton6J. Beattie
J. Fitzpatrick7D. Teague
A. Plastow8G. Strang
R. Nolan16A. Averell
J. Eddie17A. Thomson
J. Noonan18 A. Crichton
A. Scott19
Watson (2)TryRogers, Seib
Kennedy (3)PenOddie (2)
Mr I. Heard (Gala YM)

Free-scoring Aberdeen’s title challenge has always had the look of a flight of fancy, and after last week’s stutter at Peebles, they were brought crashing to earth by a disciplined and determined GHA side. The team from the Granite City turned out to have a defence like brittle concrete, solid enough at first glance, but under the strain of GHA’s well-organised forwards it crumbled to dust in the second half. The result will go down as a shock, but the manner of victory was no accident.

By the end of the game, GHA’s forwards were rampaging through the wilting Grammar pack and could have won by a bigger margin. “Woeful” was the verdict of Grammar coach Damien Reidy on a second-half performance which left them nine points behind league leaders Glasgow Hawks, a gap which looks unbridgeable on this display. “I was happy with the first half, but in the second half we just fell apart. We were very flat, we didn’t deserve to win, and in the end they wanted it more than us,” he said. “At the end of the day, if we can’t beat the two bottom sides, there’s no chance we can ever win a championship.” Reidy bemoaned the second-half sin-binning of flanker John Beattie on 55 minutes, just as the home side were beginning to dominate proceedings. “That had a huge effect on our game,” he said. “I thought he was unlucky. I was aware that the next offence would be a sin-binning, but the boy had his hands on the ball and you’re allowed to do that.”

Until the last quarter, it looked like GHA were destined to notch up another of those frustrating near-misses which have been the story of their season so far. Trailing 13-10 from two well-worked Aberdeen tries in the first half and a Keith Oddie penalty just after the break, the home side pressed forward in search of a score, only for a knock-on or missed pass to undo their good build-up play. James Eddie made an immediate impact when he replaced Williamson in the second row shortly after half-time, bursting through Grammar’s defence within a minute of taking the field only for his pass to go astray. But while Beattie’s departure was pivotal, it was in-form winger Rory Watson who tipped the balance in GHA’s favour with two smash-and-grab raids to take his tally to five tries in the last three matches. Watson was the first to react when Aberdeen spilled a pass in their own 22, kicking the ball on and outsprinting his marker to give GHA a 14-13 lead. Ten minutes later, an attempted interception by Aberdeen fell into the hands of skipper Andy Plastow, who spotted an overlap on his right and worked the ball to replacement centre Andy Scott, who in turn fed Watson to score in the corner. Aberdeen replied with a Keith Oddie penalty, but there was to be no repeat of September’s feats at Rubislaw when Seib scored two late tries just as GHA were scenting victory.

Grammar started the brighter and might have been out of sight by half-time had Oddie not missed both conversions and a penalty. With hooker Iain Stanger and flanker Dan Teague imposing themselves at the breakdown, Aberdeen’s forwards were supplying plenty of ball, while Oddie’s assured distribution was proving far more menacing than his place-kicking. A high kick by Stanger wrong-footed the GHA defence, and when the ball emerged from the ensuing mele, it was worked wide to Luke McCann, whose looping pass found Matt Rogers in just enough space to charge into the corner. The home side profited from Grammar’s lapses of discipline to take the lead with three penalties by Ian Kennedy, two from long range, during their forays into the opposition half. Grammar regained the advantage when McCann for once found space near GHA’s line and slipped the ball to full-back Rob Seib, who crossed the line for his 14th try of the season. The tide started to turn just before half-time. After a Kennedy penalty hit the post, the home side took the play up to Aberdeen’s line, but were twice thwarted when Grammar turned over the ball and cleared their lines to preserve a one-point lead at the interval.

Coach David Wilson was delighted at the way his players raised their game in the second half, but acknowledged that they still face an uphill battle to avoid relegation. “There’s still a long way to go,” he said. “We’re in a cup final situation week after week, and we’ve got to go to our away games looking to win. “The guys have shown that they are getting to grips with what’s required at this level.”

Source: The Scotsman, Monday 15th December 2003

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