There was an eerie silence round Ham Park long before the whistle sounded for the minutes tribute in respect of United’s legendary manager Duncan Gray. The place will never be the same without the man that simply ran the club from top to bottom and it was no surprise that the early stages were very scrappy given the emotion surrounding the occasion in addition to United integrating three new pre-season signings Mark Nichol, Jamie Mackenzie and Michael Petrie. Staxigoe prior to the game had a record of played 2 won 2 v United but with the level of absentee’s and the renewed vigour in the United camp for the occasion retaining that 100% record was always going to be a tall order. The movement of Murray and Nichol were to prove a major factor in the outcome of this game and on ten minutes Murray released Nichol down the left but Robertson pulled off the first of many impressive stops. The delay was only for five minutes and it started in mid-way when Grant Steven stretching picked out Darryn Mackay on the left with a fine pass. The midfielder showed great composure stepping inside before feeding Nichol on the run and the striker was not about to pass up another chance sweeping the ball passed the exposed Robertson. United did have a scare though minutes later when a pass back from skipper Michael Steven had Gray in a fankle when it skipped off the turf but the keeper got lucky as Gary Mackay picked up the loose ball and cleared to safety. James Murray has been getting rave reviews for his performances in the Highland League and he showed why as he played a huge factor in the second goal. Taylor tried to get tight to the striker on the right hand side as Petrie fed him but the defender could not handle the twist and turn as Murray raced away with the defender desperately trying to haul him back referee Elder played an excellent advantage allowing Nichol to step in from the right and unleash an unstoppable left foot shot into the top corner of Robertson’s net for the goal of the night. United were rampant now and although Staxigoe were having decent passages as soon as United entered enemy territory there was a feeling that something could happen and on the half hour it duly did Petrie’s free kick from half way was topped on by Nichol and Michael Steven who had made a late run into the box took an excellent touch before firing low passed Robertson. The visitors needed a break or they could have sank without trace and they got it less than 5 mins after United’s third and captain Steven blotted his copy book when he rashly challenged Niwa for a loose ball and Mr Elder assumed the Willie Collum pose and pointed to the spot. Centre back Colin Davidson assumed the responsibility and made an immaculate job of the task sending Gray the wrong way. Immediately United thought they had restored the 3 goal cushion when Mackenzie picked out Murray clean in on goal and as the striker drew Robertson he unselfishly squared the ball for Nichol who fired into the empty net but Mr Gunn on the line adjudged him to have been ahead of Murray when the pass was made. United then had another scare from a Reid corner that keeper Gray made a complete hash of dealing with but again after a scramble Mackenzie cleared the danger. Right on half time United dealt the visitors a huge blow Begg 40 yards from goal dinked the ball through for Nichol whose shot was blocked by Robertson but the keeper’s luck deserted him as the rebound clattered off the striker and into the net.
Half-time – PU 4-1 Staxigoe
Staxigoe’s last throw of the dice was to introduce former United favourite Jimmy Budge in the hope he could help stem the flow but heading up the slope against a 3 goal deficit was a tall order. Murray should have put the game to bed less than 5 mins into the second period when great play from Nichol on the right saw him cross to the far post and it seemed all his fellow striker had to do was tap home but he somehow screwed his shot over. The striker finally opened his account for the league season on 55 minutes when he raced on to a Mackenzie pass down the left channel, stepped inside Banks and was left with a simple finish from 8 yards to extinguish any hope of a comeback. Although playing with spirit Staxigoe were not really managing to create any chances of note as United held the game in a vice like grip. Just before the hour United made their first change Darryn Mackay making way for the returning Lewis Harrold who had hurt himself in the Rural League encounter v Halkirk. The sixth goal can only come under one heading bizarre, Begg and Petrie did well down the right before squaring the ball for Mackenzie who drove in a decent shot from the edge of the box that Robertson parried only to see his centre back Banks in his attempt to clear lash the ball into the bottom corner of his own net much to his disgust. Lee Sutherland then entered the fray to replace the tiring James Murray as United re-jigged again. But the flow of the game remained unaltered although as I say Staxigoe were trying very hard to attack but seemed to lack numbers and confidence in the final third. Number 7 was another fine finish from Nichol who looks in great nick at the moment it has to be said when Petrie picked him out racing into the box down the right channel he produced a brilliant finish across Robertson and high into the net. The keeper then distinguished himself with a super parry from a Mackenzie header after the big midfielder was picked out by a Petrie corner as United continued to push for more goals. Petrie himself could also have got in on the act after 75 mins when he linked with Begg on the edge of the box and weaved towards the penalty spot from the right but seemed reluctant to use his left foot and was eventually crowded out. The final goal of the night was not delayed long was Garry Macleod started and finished a move breaking up an attack he fed Harold on the left who swept the ball down to Nichol moving towards the corner flag he showed great feet to step away from his marker and swing a cross in for the diving Macleod to apply the final touch with his head. That was to be Nichol’s final involvement as he left the field to be replaced by Manson. The game continued to ebb and flow but United had lost the cutting edge and although having possession in good area’s lacked the final ball.
Full-time – PU 8-1 Staxigoe
1. Gray 2. D Mackay (Harrold 65) 3. G Steven 4. G Mackay 5. M Steven 6. Macleod 7. Petrie 8. Mackenzie 9. Nichol (Manson 76) 10. Murray (Sutherland 71) 11. Begg
Subs not used: McKechnie
View from the Goal:
Well we are 3 points better of than the corresponding fixture from last season so that is a bonus and scoring 8 is an achievement but I think there is a lot more to come from this team. At times we defended edgily and our possession game could be improved but the signs are good and in short spells we certainly showed a lot of potential. Great to see the new guys integrating so well and contributing heavily in their different ways to our win. Obviously from a personal point of view very much tinged with sadness and a sense of something missing, which I guess, will never go. What I would give just to hear that bull like roaring again and to have another standing argument between the goal and dug out. It just will never be the same again but we do owe to Duncan’s memory to carry on in the spirit he installed to the club and with Martin and Ross on the sidelines now well we have two that are not shy in coming forward. Off to Groats next a notoriously difficult ground and very much a different challenge awaits us on Wednesday.