As National 1/2 play-off games go, this game had to be one of the most exciting and eagerly anticipated games in years. Both sides had a big support there.
Indeed, McWhinney Uddingston even hired a proper make of bus for their fans - a Van Hool no less! For those of you not up to speed (pun not intended) on your make of bus, well, let's just say, that newly retired Sir Alex - and his teams - has been stepping on and off that make of bus for years. Very posh.
And as both sets of fans got the stand warmed up with their banter and spirited noise, deep underneath in the bowels of this seething cauldron, a pre-match intimidation game had already begun. As the Hillhead lads sat in their changing room, 10 feet away in the opposition's changing room, Fat Boy Slim had both decks pumping, bumping and grinding! The music certainly sounded good from the Uddy "ghetto blaster", but unfortunately it was so loud, nobody within a 10 mile radius could make out exactly what it was. Were the mighty Uddy trying to smoke Hillhead out of their changing room...or just lock them in there with a wall of noise?
Either way, both teams did leave for the field of play: both teams were "pumped" in their different ways, both teams were most definitely ready! If the actual game had been anything like the build-up in the days leading up to it, it would have been a classic, technically. But it definitely wasn't - and lets be honest, most didn't think it would be.
That old and often overused cliche, "a scrappy affair", kicked in for both teams from minute one, through the sheer jangling nerves from just about every player. Pitch number 1 at Peffermill isn't the best of surfaces now. It looks great, but it's become ever so slightly uneven and therefore bouncy - and that proved a problem for both sides as quite a number of players simply missed the ball when trying to stop it.
Hillhead probably had more possession in the first half, but when Uddingston got the ball they were far more productive with it.
And one of the best moves of the entire game was a through pass to striker/frontman Tom Hyndman who had a clear shot on goal and missed. It was a real chance to take an early(ish) lead, and Hyndman must be kicking himself - but in fairness to the man, it was that kind of game - the blood was rushing to most players' heads, as they frantically went "all-out" in this all-important one off game.
Uddingston had another great chance - an opportunist goal-scorer's chance - to put the ball away from close range, but HHC's Jamie Frail saved it brilliantly, deflecting it wide with his glove.
Uddingston's Laurie McKelvie never put a foot wrong the entire game, and it was his constant diligence - in his endeavour to make the correct pass - that got this game it's first goal. His excellent through ball set up Player/Coach Steven Percy, who scored a cracker from the top of Hillhead's D with his reverse stick. There was little the highly experienced Jamie Frail could do about this one. Game on - as they say!
AMN Hillhead kept pressing though and had their chances too. Alan Meikle came so close with his own reverse stick shot from the edge of Uddingston's D, but it was deflected over the bar by an Uddy stick. Hillhead had three penalty corners in the first half - the second one was well saved by the Uddingston keeper, but the third one, not long from half-time, was Hillhead's breakthrough.
The original shot from the edge of the circle broke down - the ball rebounded to push-out man Alan Meikle, who was close to the baseline on the left, and he cracked it from an acute angle low past the keeper. It was a brilliant goal, and it was a goal that was desperately required before half-time.
That Meikle goal was what Hillhead obviously needed, and it really spurred them on for the second half - and it showed, as they started to play far more fluent and connected hockey.
The ball was being missed less, their passing game ramped up a little bit closer to the standard they know they can provide for each other as a team on any other given day.
They were being buoyed, bolstered and encouraged, by the always motivated Andrew Hilton in the centre of the park. The team visibly took the game higher up the park and put far more pressure on the Uddingston defence. Graeme Campbell, who in the run up to the game had been carrying an injury and was "under the weather", came far more into the game in the second half. When he gets on those super-fast-direct runs he's one of the best players in the land. In the first half he quite literally - and frustratingly for himself - left the ball behind him, but now he was taking that little yellow ball with him, and taking his game to the opposition.
Uddingston are a young team mostly, but they've got longer serving experienced players in their ranks too. These Uddy "originals" - the guys who have been around Uddingston for a while - know how to dig-in and change tactics against certain opposition when the going gets tough.
Captain Nairn Scobie, Martin Lorimer and David Goodfellow did just that under increasing pressure from six-years-in-National 1 Hillhead. All the money in the world can't buy the vital experience that players like these guys have got. All three had a great game under the high tension circumstances.
Nairn Scobie has been around a long, long time. His composure on the ball was superb; and as a captain under pressure on the day, he stuck to his important job whilst doing everything in his power to rally the younger troops.
Meanwhile, player/coach Steven Percy, who had given it everything in the first half, was now looking tired in the second half, and understandably so. Hillhead created far more chances in front of goal in the second half - and one of their best chances fell to Ewan Campbell who rushed in from the left and towards the oncoming keeper, only to lob it just over the bar. But in fairness to Campbell - like Uddingston's Hyndman in the first half, the whole pressure-pot of the occasion will have got the better of him, even if he didn't realise it himself!
However, it was the man who had scored Hillhead's equaliser in the first half who made the real difference with five minutes to go.
Alan Meikle had had to go off the park half way through the second half with an injury to his eye. He had to go off and get it patched up. There was no guarantee that he'd make it back on. But he did come back on with that five minutes to go. And with a TWO minutes to go he produced a piece of magic that changed absolutely everything! Receiving the ball just wide and off the keeper's left post, he scooped it brilliantly over the man in the pads and towards the goal - it was then helped over the line by Graeme Campbell to score Hillhead's winning goal!
It was high drama to end an incredible game, an incredible day, and an incredibly exciting and tense week. It would be equally and incredibly patronising to McWhinney Uddingston, however, to tell them how unlucky they were. The devastation of it all was written across all of their faces after the final whistle sounded, only two minutes after Hillhead's goal.
Will they come back from this? Of course they will. Will they make National 1 at the end of next season? Well they should.
But that will depend on their priorities and the priorities of certain players.
Coach Steven Percy is a great player. As a certain ex-Western I's player from a very successful 90's Western 1's team pointed out on Sunday night after the game, "You don't play in the Wildcats midfield in recent times unless you're damn good". That's the club, team and position, Steven Percy was playing for only very recently. He's played for Hillhead on two separate occasions as well, and had a short-lived stint at Kelburne in between. He's also coached/played in Holland. So, it's completely fair to say, that the man is a nomad who's constantly on the look out for something better. But surely he'll now give Uddingston some long-term loyalty after the rapid progression that's taken place in the last few months - because that's what they'll especially want, and need right now.
And as far as a couple of the younger "big name signings" who have recently gone to Uddingston? Well, excuse the cynicism, but quite frankly, time will tell if they're still "up for it", even in the next few weeks...
One things for sure, the likes of McKelvie, Lorimer, Goodfellow and the ever-green Nairn Scobie, will be completely up for next season already! All power to them.
All power to their loyalty to their club. With that experience and loyalty, combined hopefully with the correct "club ethos" established by their forefathers, Uddingston Men's 1's can be confident of a future in the top flight, soon.
AMN Hillhead Men's 1's, meanwhile, stay in National 1 and that is where they definitely belong. It was a really tight game and they left it late, but there was never really any doubt in their minds they could do it. But it's all about the future now - and as Hillhead 1's
Captain Andrew Hilton announced after the game - "We should never let ourselves get in this position again!" He's absolutely right - AMN Hillhead should not be letting themselves get in that position again.
FINAL SCORE: AMN Hillhead Men's 1's 2 McWhinney Uddingston Men's 1's 1 [Peffermill - 12/05/2013] Andy Lovat.