Winning start for Orsten Gardner as Newtonmore edge past Kinlochshiel
NEWTONMORE brushed aside their reputation as slow starters in the Mowi Premiership when they beat Kinlochshiel 1-0 at the Eilan.
The fixture was transferred to the Eilan midweek when it became clear 'Shiel's new Rèaraig Park would be unplayable because of rain.
New Newtonmore manager Orsten Gardner started Owen Fraser in goal, replacing Kenny Ross, and Fraser turned in an assured performance.
'More were missing Glen MacKintosh, Evan Menzies and Fraser MacKintosh.
Boss Orsten Gardner had watched the second team thump the Kinlochshiel reserve side at Kincraig and must have been given food for thought with the goal-scoring exploits of the forward line.
In the absence of Mackintosh and Menzies there are fewer proven goal scorers currently in the first team.
But conversely Saturday's tight contest against a physical and talented Kinlochshiel side would have shown the watching young second team players what a step up it is to the Premier Division where there is much less time on the ball.
In front of a great crowd for an early season fixture it was a closely contested match with Kinlochshiel having the best of the chances.
However, new keeper Fraser justified the faith shown in him by Gardner.
Naturally the new boss was delighted to get off to a winning start in his first competitive league game.
He said: "I was very pleased with the performance of Owen Fraser in goal. He had four or five good saves which kept us in the game and will have boosted his confidence since returning to his old position from midfield."
But reflecting on the overall performance he was honest and magnanimous in victory.
He said: "Kinlochshiel will be disappointed not to have taken anything out of the game. They are a good side that has been strengthened by a couple of signings and if they steer clear of injuries they will surely be one of the sides in the mix for both the league and cups this season.
"They will take points off other title challengers."
On a bitterly cold day, the game's decisive moment came on 20 minutes when Steven MacDonald launched a long ball forward.
Jamie Robinson did well to take the ball down and then turn 'Shiel's Finlay MacRae before getting a shot on target which was well saved by Josh Grant.
However, as the ball rebounded off the keeper, 'More's Iain Robinson was first to react and he calmly took the ball around the stopper before tapping it into the net. Surprise choice at wing back Darrin Fowler had a very solid performance and Rory Kennedy and Steven MacDonald were good as usual.
But overall it was a patchy performance by the Blue and Whites.
A number of players allowed the opposition too much space and were second to too many balls despite the team looking fitter than 12 months ago.
More worrying still was that when under the cosh too many players dropped back and the team lost its shape inviting more pressure.
However, Newtonmore are notoriously slow starters and this win against dangerous opponents was a good start for the new manager.
Kinlochshiel did have MacRae brothers Finlay, Keith and John back following an injury-plagued 2019 season and manager Johnston Gill added to his squad during the close season with Rhuairaidh MacDonald joining from Glengarry and Oliver MacRae back in the fold after a spell with Glasgow Mid Argyll.
Gardner will be wanting to ensure that the Eilan again becomes a venue where lost games are a rarity after last season's disappointing run of home losses with four league defeats.
'More, who will be looking to add to the eight of the last 10 Premiership titles they have won, when they return to the Eilan on Saturday where newly-promoted Glasgow Mid Argyll are the visitors.
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