HELENSBURGH fell at the first hurdle of the Scottish Amateur Cup after a 5-3 loss to Grangemouth-based Syngenta FC at Hermitage Academy on Saturday.

Despite the loss of defender David Wilkie, who was sent off with less than half an hour played for a deliberate handball on the line, Helensburgh battled bravely and fought back from 3-1 down to level the tie – only for the extra man, and Helensburgh’s tired legs, to eventually prove the deciding factor.

On a sunny afternoon, Helensburgh’s line-up saw a number of changes from the previous week’s League Cup match against East Kilbride Rolls Royce, and, notably, a change from their preferred 4-3-3 formation to a more traditional 4-4-2.

In the opening exchanges it was the local team who created two good scoring opportunities: firstly Caleb Phipps was put through on goal, but the keeper did well to smother his shot, and then moments later they were denied again when Ross Jeffrey saw his point-blank header saved on the line.

Despite these chances the visitors’ movement off the ball was creating problems for the Burgh team, who were also struggling to adapt to their unfamiliar shape, finding themselves outnumbered in the centre of midfield and being pushed onto the back foot.

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It was no surprise to see Syngenta open the scoring 20 minutes in, when a move down the right wing saw a cross whipped into the box; the ball was laid back into the path of the burly centre forward whose low first time shot found the corner of the net.

Worse was to follow shortly after when, from a corner on the left, a goalmouth scramble ensued – and as the ball was fired towards goal, Burgh right back David Wilkie instinctively stuck out his arm to prevent a certain goal.

The referee quickly pointed to the spot and showed Wilkie a straight red card, and the resulting penalty was calmly dispatched to make it 2-0 to the visitors.

Not for the first time this season, the Burgh team had to rethink their tactical set up as they tried to find a way back into the game.

And they gave themselves a chance when Phipps pulled one back on the half hour mark – once again a through ball down the right hand side of the visitor’s defence gave Phipps a chance to outpace his marker, and this time he placed his shot away from the keeper into the far corner of the net.

That encouraged the home team and for the next 10 minutes the they held their own despite their numerical disadvantage.

However just as it looked as if they would go in at half time only one behind, Syngenta increased their lead when a good move down the left, followed by a pinpoint cross into the box and a firm header, gave Eskdale in the Burgh goal no chance.

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With the formation rejigged during the break the local lads knew they had to work their socks off to get anything out of the game – and work they did, as the 10 men started to dictate the pace of the game, allowing them to get support up to lone striker Tadlock.

Within 10 minutes of the restart they had reduced the deficit – Steven Seear’s defence-splitting pass found Phipps bursting into the opposition area, and as he tried to turn back inside his marker he was hauled to the ground giving the ref an easy decision to award another spot kick, which Stuart Bailey planted low into the bottom corner.

With their tails now up and the visitors on the back foot, the home side, incredibly, levelled the game – and once again Phipps was at the centre of it, as he ran onto another terrific through ball, this time played by Jamie Paterson, before squaring the ball to Brooks Tadlock, who managed to get to the ball before the advancing keeper and squeeze it into the net.

However hopes of an unlikely draw and a replay were dashed when, with the game moving into the last 10 minutes, the visitors retook the lead. Syngenta’s right winger received the ball out wide in a suspiciously offside position – but the referee waved play on, and he took full advantage by slinging in a terrific outswinging cross which was headed powerfully into the roof of the net.

With legs tiring, the Burgh boys desperately tried to claw their way back into the game, but any lingering doubt as to who would be moving into the second round vanished as the visitors wrapped up the game in the final minute.

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This time the ball was lashed home when a fine goal line clearance by McNeill fell to the feet of a Syngenta striker in the six yard box.

Assistant manager Russell Makeham said: “It was another decent display from the lads against a good Syngenta team, however we were up against it as soon as the sending off was given.

“In saying that the boys stuck to their task and only tired legs probably caused us to wilt in the latter stages of the game.

“The club would like to thank the committee of Colgrain Bowling Club for allowing us to take the Syngenta lads back for hospitality after the game on Saturday.”

It’s back to more cup action next week as the team travel to East Kilbride to wrap up their league cup group fixtures when they play Duncanrig.

Squad: Eskdale, Wilkie, Johns, Makeham, Bailey, Park, Paterson, Phipps, Tadlock, Martin, Jeffreys, Seears, McNeil, Jones, Birnie.

Elsewhere, Rhu Amateurs will try for a second time to play their Scottish Amateur Cup tie away to Bearsden this Saturday, September 14, after the match was postponed last weekend.