United’s determination to lift the SHFL title remains undiminished.
Being accustomed to being in the title mix until late in the season—as late as the last game three season’s back, everyone associated with the club is fully aware of just how demanding a task the chairman has set it.
Experience of many clubs over decades has shown that this, always a fiercely contested league isn’t one where you can simply buy success by spending more on players and coaching than your rivals.
You certainly need to pay decent money to attract and retain players of the standard needed to do the job, but there is more to it than just that, much more.
Preparation is a big part of it and this year Formartine have gone about setting themselves up for the coming season with a testing series of friendlies at roughly twice a week over the past fortnight before the season starts in earnest this weekend.
These serve a number of functions including giving new signings, of which there have been a few, and those returning from injury, a couple of key players the opportunity to learn or re-learn how how to slot in alongside the rest of the squad.
All of this comes on top of the a rigorous pre-season blood and guts sequence of sessions geared directly at installing the background fitness needed to survive a year in the SHFL.
Veteran Paul Lawson had been injured at the time of previous pre-seasons and this year has been his first in three seasons. He’ll have found it hard but is looking lean and fit for the coming fray.
After a highly creditable draw against Forfar at Station Park, United faced more local opposition at Rothienorman.
The amateur side were well up for this opportunity to cause a bit of embarrassment to the professional level players from North Lodge and put up a spirited performance throughout.
It was more of a hanging on in and trying to prevent the visitors from scoring kind of approach than one based on a realistic chance of producing a shock result, but overall it served them well.
United had about 70% of the possession and conducted the game mostly in Rothie territory but with backs to the
wall defending and a highly populated midfield the home side kept United at bay for almost all of the first half.
Just a minute or two before the interval a slick move started deep on the right saw Crawford setting Burnett loose down the flank before hitting a deep cross for Anderson who had ghosted in at the back stick to poke into the net from no more than 5 yards out.
The second half saw the re-introduction of a slim line Connor Gethins fresh from his hols and the tricky wee Irishman took little more than 5 minutes to find the net finishing sure footedly, from close range to sign off a period of fast pass and move stuff in and around the left side of the home box.
This was the phase of the game where the difference between Amateur and Professional was most starkly revealed and in the space of another five minutes United had taken their tally to four with another classic poacher’s finish from Gethins :picking his spot before neatly despatching the ball past the outstretched arm of the keeper and a rather more spectacular effort by Scott Ferries with a blistering drive from little shy of twenty yards out and a bit right of centre, that left the keeper with no chance.
Just as it looked like the floodgates were opening and United would rattle in a few more goals, they closed again. Some of this was down to the never say die commitment of a Rothie side who stuck doggedly to a fairly thankless rearguard action and some to a possible lack of ruthlessness on United’s part.
The score hung at 4-0 – a decent reflection on the differences between the two and although United still maintained the lion’s share of territory and possession their guns were sufficiently spiked to keep the score where it was.
It provided an excellent run out for some newcomers: Muirhead a hard running young striker whose first touch may need to sharpen a little for him to cope at SHFL level.
If it does, he probably has the rest of what it takes. Jeavon Anderson, son of the kenspeckle Russell, a strapping 17 year old defender who for all he is young and green, seems to read the game like a veteran, tackle well and shows excellent vision in distribution – a cracker.
Archie McPhee, captain of Elgin City last season, has shown that he has what it takes at a higher level and seems every inch the finished article. He’s left sided and looks most at home as a wing back defending well but also dangerous and skilled going forward.
Unlike many defenders he has shown excellent distribution in and around the box -definitely a force to be reckoned with. He has also shown the distinct potential to add some left footed bite to the midfield.
The evening game against Hermes, first of the new season for a trim looking North Lodge saw United facing some top end Junior Superleague opposition from Hermes. United were every bit as slick and dominant against them as they had been against Rothie but the prolific little goal burst did not appear this time.
The shape, pressure, pace and movement were all there but goals were a bit harder to come by.
The first, the end product of repeated forays down the right by Max Berton came late[ish] in the first half after a venomous curling cross by the wide man cannoned off the junction between upright and crossbar before being rifled home at the opposite side from the 6 yard line.
The second, only a couple of minutes from the end came from a penalty kick by Lawson after Barbour was bundled off the ball inside the left edge of the box.
The captain struck the ball low and pretty central but the lanky visiting keeper was slow to dive either way, a bit like a cow getting down for the night, and almost accidently it seemed, got some sort of block on the ball but there was enough pace on the shot for it to have crossed the line before being fumbled away by the custodian.
The following game saw United travel to play Glasgow BSC where Graeme Roger socred twice in a 2-2 draw.
That was followed by a 4-0 win away to Edinbugh University where Roger, Barbour and MacPhee scored.