Arbroath line-up: Woodcock; McMullen, Rennie, Bishop, Beith; Henslee, Cusick, Cook, Spankie; Brazil, McLean Subs: Farquharson, Collier, Johnson, Warren, Hamilton.
Arbroath kicked off towards the Harbour end with a very strong wind to their advantage. The play began brightly with Keith struggling to get out of their half and Arbroath created several half-chances before Brazil put McLean through. He forced past the defender alongside him, drew the keeper and beat him at the left hand post to make it 1-0 after 10 minutes. Cook then went close with a header from a Swankie cross, and Beith struck a free kick on the left which hit the bar. McLean also had a very good shout for a penalty when he was scythed down just inside the box but the ref waved it away. Arbroath made it 2-0 after 25 minutes. Rennie ventured forward in a right midfield position and hit a perfect cross for Henslee to head home under pressure from a defender in powerful Alan Shearer style from 10 yards out on the left of the box. Arbroath remained on top for the remainder of the half and Woodcock had little to do except gather loose balls. Although the Keith forwards found themselves offside on numerous occasions they did look to have a fair amount of pace, and there were signs that they could build quickly from midfield.
In the second half, the wind dropped, which meant that Keith could take less advantage from it. However there were some heavy squalls which cannot have been too nice for Arbroath to play into, and quite a lot of surface water was building up. The Highland League team were looking sharper, and with Cusick and our forwards losing their dominance Keith were coming more into the game. Woodcock made several saves, tipping a shot over the bar and blocking another effort with his legs. However after about an hour a Keith forward drove in a shot which the referee judged to have hit Bishop on the arm. The resulting penalty went low to Woodcock’s right and gave him no chance. Two minutes later a Keith player gathered a loose Arbroath clearance just in from the right touchline and drove a powerful shot across Woodcock and into the goal, hitting the side netting. Arbroath brought on all their substitutes at various periods of the second half, which had the effect of introducing complete disarray in midfield and reduced the forward threat. For the remainder of the game Keith looked the more likely to get a winner. Farquharson was given 30 minutes to show what he could do. Unfortunately for him, today was not his day. He had several opportunities to beat players in wide positions and bear down on goal but seldom made it past the defender. Brazil hit a shot/cross across the goal from the edge of the area which only needed a touch, but unfortunately Farky was a yard away from the ball when it passed for a goal kick. Several in the crowd began to get on his back, which is ridiculous given this was a warm-up game designed to give the fringe players a run-out and to build confidence. The game ended with a bit of gamesmanship by Keith, who treated matters very seriously and subbed their keeper with one minute remaining, seemingly to waste a bit of time and ensure a draw against the ‘big-time’ league opposition.
After three friendlies it is still impossible to imagine how Arbroath will fare this season. On the face of it, a forward line of Brazil and McLean, with support from Swankie, looks as if it could yield more goals than last season. This could also be strengthened by the signing of McDonald, who played well against Dumfermline earlier this week, from Cumnock. Miller was not in today’s squad and McGlashan, who is presumably not yet match-fit, was taking the pre-match warm-up, very effectively in fact. It may be a coincidence, but the team did look sharper and more interested when they started today, following ‘encouragement’ from the man-mountain. Beith is clearly a gifted player, and Bishop and Rennie look imposing in central defence but Rennie in particular has to work on his defensive game, retain concentration and stop giving the ball away unnecessarily, otherwise we are going to leak goals again this season. In my opinion we have a younger, (mostly) fitter, more eager squad than last season and if Kirk can find his best eleven who can play as a unit then there are grounds for optimism. However, most are unknown quantities in D2 terms and there have to be fears that it could easily all go pear-shaped if too many changes to the team structure are made. If Kirk pulls it off, we will be singing his praises but if we suffer a few heavy defeats early on it will be back to square one again, the familiar faces will re-appear, and the long struggle to avoid relegation will begin. At least the manager is not afraid to blood new young lads and to look to shape the team in his own style, and there are signs that there could be more thrills and spills up front than under the previous two managers.