There’s not always that much to be learned from friendlies – when the rewards for victory and the consequences of defeat are set below the level that league and cup fixtures provide, judgments about team and individual performances are inevitably flimsy.
However, the fact remains that the wee club from the Highland League more than matched their League 1 opponents at every stage of this pre-season friendly and few would have counted it an injustice had they converted some of their late second half pressure into a victory.
Particularly pleasing for the United faithful was the standard of midfield play for a prolonged period in the second half where Lawson and Anderson in particular produced a skilled and intelligently managed performance.
Of the new signings MacPhee and MacItosh took the eye with performances suggesting that not only are they useful additions to the side but bring additional qualities too it.
The opening exchanges went more Forfar’s way than United’s in the sense that Athletic for the first ten minutes or so had slightly more possession and conducted more of their business in United’s territory than their own.
This didn’t last and as the superior level of possession hadn’t yielded much in terms of penetration of the United penalty area, the visitors quickly found their feet and began to ask questions of their own.
Garry Wood was the spearhead of a three man forward line (along with Ferries and Barbour) and within 15 minutes or so United were beginning to press.
A swift foray down the left by Barbour set up by McPhee ended with a an awkward bobbly cross towards the near post that initiated a melee in that area.
Rodger had a close range effort blocked by a thicket of legs, Wood had a go too but the ball was eventually booted clear by big Munro.
Play was fairly evenly balanced over the mid period of the first half.
In the 26th minute, Formartine forced their fourth corner in five minutes.
The previous ones had failed to find forwards but this time United were able to keep the pressure on for a minute or two during which time Rodger and Barbour both had close range efforts scrambled away.
Forfar were by now if not quite dancing to United’s tune, definitely playing second fiddle – rather squeakily at times too.
In the 38th minute United mounted another sustained offensive on the Loons.
Lawson had clipped a ball out to the right and Rodger had worked it into the box and onto Garry Wood who had the audacity to poke it between the legs of the muckle Munro.
This colossus of rogues was not taking the nutmeg lightly and simply brought the striker down there and then.
The ref was on the spot and blew immediately for a penalty which Lawson buried with aplomb, neatly driving the ball low and hard just inside the keeper’s right upright.
This produced a flurry of activity from the home side but United’s defence looked pretty solid and although the extent of Athletic’s possession raised a bit in response to going behind it looked like Formartine would contain whatever came their way.
Sadly they didn’t quite manage this: a free kick out wide right knocking on for forty yards from goal was driven in by Scott.
Wood looked to have it and the pressing Munro covered but either slipped or mistimed his effort allowing the ball through to the centre half who took advantage of the free header and put the ball beyond the reach of MacDonald on the stroke of half time.
The second half began with a rash of substitutions – as much for the sake of blooding players as for tactical reasons. Muirhead, Burnett and Reid replaced Rodger, Barbour and MacDonald while Forfar rearranged a couple of un-named trialists.
Initially the game continued with Formartine getting slightly the better of the territorial side and given the number of substitutions and “new” players involved, made a decent fist of finding each other.
They looked like developing a decent shape and rhythm with Gary Wood in the back four to make space for Muirhead up top.
This seemed to be going well enough until the 56th minute when Wood went down with what looked like a nasty injury to his left knee and was helped off the pitch.
Young Jevan Anderson took his place and didn’t really put a foot wrong the whole time he was there.
He dealt well with whatever came his way but the shape of the game changed and he wasn’t really put under any sustained pressure.
United created the better of the few chances that the remainder of the game threw up one, the result of a ball cleverly worked from right to left across the box by McPhee found Muirhead at full stretch but his 5 yard effort went straight to keeper MacCallum and a vicious low drive by Lawson on the 18-yard line was barely a millimetre wide of McCallum’s right upright.
As substitutions increased the coherence of play decreased, but United still looked comfortable enough and were able to see the game out to a 1-1 draw.