A work colleague, and avid follower of the grounds tour has been saying that we have been ‘playing it safe’, alleging there has not been many long distance games attended! Well, the match choice for the second weekend in April saw us head to Borough Briggs, Elgin, for the game between Elgin City and Montrose, which pretty much dispels that myth!
This is quite possibly the furthest place in Scotland I’ve ever visited, and concede it was not a venue that was approached with much enthusiasm due to the length of the journey. However, it turned out to be a long, but worthwhile day out and we were even home in time to collect the wife from work. Easy!
A lot of pre match preparation was put in for this one, and morale in the camp slumped when both the AA route planner and the satnav said the run time was four hours, thirty six minutes! As it goes, we actually got there an hour less than that and ended up parked across from the Main Stand at 1.45pm. It will be high fives all round, only if I manage to escape receiving a letter from the authorities!
So, with time to spare, we set about getting fed and having a walk about. Just along the road is a huge Tesco store and some other shopping outlets. We had a brief scout round both the shops and the ground, before opting to go in early after each tackling a sandwich ‘meal deal’!
Elgin City are in their thirteenth year being a Scottish Football League club, having played in the Highland League throughout most of their one hundred and twenty year history. This season has been quite progressive and they, like their opponents for this game, Montrose have an excellent chance of getting a Division 3 Play Off place.
I have seen Montrose several times this season, so am quite familiar with their playing squad now, but Dennis Wyness apart, I am not very knowledgable on the Elgin team. I would highlight however, that I remember the Manager, Ross Jack as a player in the 1980s when he played for Dunfermline Athletic and Kilmarnock. I would also add that apart from his goal scoring record I remember him well from the Panini sticker albums of that era!
The home side had Joe Malin in goals, club Captain, David Niven is the right back and one of the key figures in defence. Brian Cameron and Craig Gunn seemed to be the main men in midfield with Paul Harkins providing support for Daniel Moore and Stuart Leslie.
For Montrose, well they had John Gibson in goals and he seems to have ousted Sandy Wood for the number one jersey in recent weeks. The main men at the back are Stephen McNally and Paul Watson with Lloyd Young and Terry Masson in midfield.
In the games I have seen ‘The Gable Endies’ this season, one of their key players has been Jamie Winter in the middle of the park and he seems to make them tick. In attack they have Scott Johnston on the wing, Garry Wood and also the luxury of the free scoring Martin Boyle, on loan from Dundee.
The sun was out but it was a bit bit windy. Both teams knew the importance of a win, so as expected the players on either side were wholehearted in their commitment in trying to get the three points.
Elgin forced an early corner and a free kick but neither really troubled the Montrose defence. At the opposite end, a ball into the Elgin penalty box by Paul Watson found Garry Wood, but his hooked shot from close range went over the bar.
The hosts had a good chance after ten minutes when Montrose attempted to play offside, which left Paul Harkins to fire in a shot that was saved by John Gibson, then cleared to safety by Paul Lunan.
Moments later, Elgin nearly opened the scoring when Craig Gunn shot just wide of the left hand post when the ball landed to him from a Gavin Morrison free kick. Merely seconds later, Montrose broke up the park and from close range, Scott Johnston toe poked his shot just wide, from a Watson cross on the left.
Montrose were starting to press a bit further up the pitch and had a sustained period of pressure. A long ball into the Elgin box saw Sean Crighton clear for a corner to avert the danger as Wood and Boyle waited to pounce. Home ‘keeper Malin then spared his skipper, David Niven’s blushes when he was dispossessed on the right touch line. The ball found its way into the penalty box and Malin saved superbly from a Boyle shot.
Then, from a Montrose corner on the right, the ball bobbled in the box as the Elgin defence struggled to clear their lines, before a Wood header forced Malin into another excellent save before the ball was cleared for a throw in.
Just before the half hour mark we got the first goal of the afternoon, and Elgin could have no complaints. A nicely weighted pass by Garry Wood, through the home defence, was latched onto by Terry Masson, and as Malin advanced, Masson knocked the ball under him with the outside of his foot to make it 1-0.
Elgin hit back minutes later when a shot from the edge of the eighteen yard box by Paul Harkins was well held by John Gibson. Five minutes from the break, Elgin had another chance when, a Niven throw in on the right found Stuart Leslie, who turned in the box, but again Gibson was equal to his left foot drive.
Two minutes before the break, Elgin’s perseverance paid off when a good move down the left hand side resulted in an equaliser. Daniel Moore played a ball through for Paul McMullan and from a relatively tight angle, and only the goalkeeper to beat, he buried his shot into the far corner of the net to make it 1-1,
The sides went in level at the break in what was a really entertaining first half, and a draw was probably about right, based on possession and goal scoring opportunities. There were problems though for Montrose who were forced into two changes at the break. Jamie Winter who was toiling in the latter part of the first period was replaced by Ross McCord and goalkeeper, John Gibson who had a good half, made way for Sandy Wood.
It probably had nothing to do with the substitutions, but it was Montrose who started the brighter at the start of the second period. Two minutes in, Lloyd Young tried a speculative over head shot that was saved by Joe Malin.
On fifty minutes, Montrose were back in front and it was a well worked goal. Some nice hold up play in midfield resulted in a pass from Masson on the right, through the centre of the Elgin defence. It was picked up by Scott Johnston and he clipped the ball over Malin into the net to make it 2-1.
Both teams were trying to move up the park but tended to cancel each other out. The game hit a spell when play was constantly interrupted by petty fouling and a couple of bookings for Masson and Johnston of Montrose.
Just after the hour, Elgin City were level again, and what a strike it was. A move on the right wing saw the ball played to Stuart Leslie about twenty five yards from goal. He controlled the ball, but had maybe taken on too many players. As he was about to lose the ball, he stretched to get a pass into the path of Paul Harkins, just outside the eighteen yard box. Hitting the ball first time and with little back lift, it crashed high into the net leaving ‘keeper, Sandy Wood with no chance.
Seven minutes after the equaliser, Elgin had a good half chance from close range, but Craig Gunn put his shot over the bar. Five minutes after that, Gunn was involved again as his shot inside the box was blocked by Alan Campbell and from the rebound, McCord did well to block Paul Harkins’ follow up.
Elgin dominated most of the second half, but their decision making and final ball let them down at vital times. With the scores level, I think some fear of losing crept into both teams play and neither side really forced any clear cut chances, until three minutes from the end.
An Elgin attack saw Captain, David Niven in unfamiliar territory, up supporting the forwards. He had the ball in the box, turned, and although there was maybe some contact, I am unsure if it was enough to give a penalty. The referee, Matt Northcroft thought otherwise and awarded the spot kick. We made our way round behind the goal, along with many other fans, before it was taken. Paul Harkins stepped up, and buried his kick into his bottom right hand corner, sending Sandy Wood the wrong way to give Elgin a 3-2 lead.
Apart from a Paul Watson shot for Montrose that went over the bar, there was no further action and the game ended with all three points staying at Borough Briggs, which delighted a majority of the 777 in attendance.
I always have an open mind when visiting a ground for the first time, and as previously stated, the only thing putting me off Borough Briggs was the traveling. This was an excellent venue, coupled with a really decent game of football, and is definitely one of the best visited to date.
We opted to stand behind the home goal, and latterly at the corner next to the covered terracing. As you enter the ground there are people handing out team sheets and selling the half time draw tickets. Tucked away in a corner was a guy taking in season ticket vouchers and selling the match programme, yet some say men cannot multitask! Next to this there are toilets and a food outlet, so again, like some other grounds visited this season, all the facilities are quite close together.
In all four corners of the ground there are open spaces where young kids played football, with one side even having small goal nets! It was great to see so many of them wearing Elgin City home and away kits and inviting other locals of similar age to join in. Behind both goals there is some new looking terrace area on grass embankments. The terracing opposite the Main Stand runs pretty much the length of the pitch, but it has a lot of supporting poles underneath the roof which obstruct your view of the pitch.
The Main Stand is small and quite unique looking, with it situated centrally, leaving standing room or limited terrace space for spectators on either side of it. The dug outs are also intriguing as they are placed either side of the Main Stand, and it looked like the Elgin back room staff were sitting in with the home fans!
I found the town a pleasant, clean and quiet place, with the people we met friendly and helpful. From our position inside the ground we could see the car so it meant we were on our way home, literally seconds after full time. After a few miles down the road, I was too busy listening to BBC Sportsound when I became aware of the kids counting. I eventually asked what they were doing, only to be told they were counting the vast assortment of dead birds and animals at the side of the road! Each to their own I suppose.