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Pre-Season friendly: Cove Rangers 2-7 Forfar Athletic

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It’s been a long summer. The brilliance of the Spain’s performance in the final of Euro 2012 against Italy seems a distant memory now. Even though the technical ability of the Spanish may not have been on show here; it was refreshing to witness Highland League outfit Cove Rangers host Forfar Athletic of Division Two on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

This was the second pre-season game for both teams and from the beginning of the match it was evident that neither had found their rhythm as yet. Both teams lined up in a 4-4-2 formation but neither team looked comfortable in possession early on. The scrappy nature of the opening exchanges was epitomised after five minutes when Forfar goalkeeper, Ryan Adamson, was pressed quickly following a back-pass by the impressive Jordan Leydon. Adamson’s clearance was charged down by the young attacker but fortunately for the Forfar ‘keeper, the ball spun wide of his left hand post.

Thankfully the contest began to take shape after 15 minutes and the pattern of the match became clear. Forfar would try and pass through midfield and bring their wide players into the game as much as possible; in the hope that their movement was too good for the Cove defence. In contrast, Cove would happily sit tight and counter attack with long balls into the channels for their attackers to chase.

Forfar’s approach worked as they found some rhythm to their play. They created a number of good openings with Chris Templeton – surprisingly playing in the centre of midfield – linking up well with strikers Gavin Swankie and Charlie King. Indeed Templeton should have put ‘The Loons’ ahead after 20 minutes. Following some good passing and movement from Gavin Swankie and Kevin Motion, Templeton was clear through on goal but shot straight at Cove ‘keeper Stuart McKenzie.

The visitor’s dominance was finally rewarded after half an hour as they got the breakthrough. Cove failed to clear a corner decisively, which allowed Kevin Motion – unmarked 25 yards from goal – to power a lovely shot through the crowded penalty into the bottom corner.

However, Forfar’s lead only lasted 12 minutes. A quick counter attack from Cove saw Jordan Leydon pick up the ball wide on the right hand side. Forfar allowed him to run at their defence, cut inside, and hit a beauty of a shot with his left foot; the strike landed in the right hand corner, leaving ‘keeper Ryan Adamson with no chance.

Unfortunately for the hosts they failed to make it to half time on level terms. Gavin Swankie picked up the ball at the edge of the Cove Rangers area, showed some class to ride a sliding challenge, before driving the ball past ‘keeper McKenzie into the bottom left hand corner to put Forfar 2-1 ahead at the interval.

Cove sprung a surprise at the start of the 2nd half as they lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, reverting from 4-4-2 which they had played in the first half. Their change made the game a lot more interesting from a tactical perspective. The reasoning behind the change was sound enough. They were getting dominated in the middle of the park and were struggling to cope with Templeton’s presence, passing and link-up with Gavin Swankie and Charlie King. In theory, 3 vs. 2 in the centre of midfield would allow them to contain Forfar better. In practise, however, it didn’t work.

Forfar changed their angle of attack and penetrated more down the flanks. The Forfar wide players, full backs and wide midfielders, were allowed far too much space and time. The Cove ‘wing-backs’ seemed to have no positional sense. They were pinned back and if they dared press the play, there was ample space in behind for Forfar to exploit. Soon enough, Forfar took advantage with Gavin Swankie tapping in his second to make it 3-1 after 53 minutes. 2 minutes later, Forfar added another as Michael Dunlop headed home from a corner.

If a 3 goal deficit dispirited the hosts it did not show. Their most talented performer, Jordan Leydon, produced a piece of play that was undoubtedly the moment of the match. Receiving the ball a wide left position half way inside his own half, he skipped inside one opponent, outside another before playing the most delightful through ball for Michael Taylor to dink his shot past the on-rushing Forfar ‘keeper Ryan Adamson. Leydon looked dangerous with his pace and skill every time he received the ball; indeed Forfar soon became wary of his ability and would ‘double-up’ against him when he had the ball.

Forfar soon restored their 3 goal cushion to make the score 5-2. Gavin Swankie completed his hat-trick with a superb free-kick. His strike clipped the bar before nestling in the top corner of the net. Forfar went on to completely dominate the remaining 20 minutes. Duncan Reid grabbed a brace in the last five minutes to complete the rout.

The signs look good for Forfar ahead of the new season. This comfortable win should provide the team with the confidence required to improve on the 7th place finish last season. The hosts can take pride that they competed well in the first half but their defending will have to improve if they are to go one better than the second placed finish achieved in last season’s Highland League. Another challenge for Cove could be hanging on to their talented attacker Jordan Leydon, especially if he can produce performances like this on a consistent basis.

Report by Alan Rennie

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