HELENSBURGH were forced to call on the help of several trialists as the unavailability of key players hit the local team’s ranks hard on Saturday.

The Burgh club’s growing injury crisis forced them to call in three unfamiliar faces – two former players and one willing volunteer from Rutherglen – for their Division One basement battle away to second-bottom Crookston Castle, which the visitors ended up losing 6-3 after playing the last 20 minutes with just nine men.

And as if to prove that when your luck is out, it’s really out, one of those stand-ins ended the match with a bad Achilles injury after going in goal when keeper Ronnie Eskdale dislocated his shoulder with just five minutes played.

Beginning the game with the bare 11 men and no substitutes due to traffic hold-ups, Helensburgh couldn’t have hoped for a worse start to the match as Eskdale popped his shoulder making a routine low collection in the opening minutes.

That saw one of the squad’s trialists, Johnathan Occhiochiuso, volunteer to stand in between the posts – but the visitors shrugged off their early setback to take the lead when Keith Thomas found the net with a fine curling first-time effort from the edge of the area.

READ MORE: Helensburgh knocked out of Challenge Cup after 3-1 loss to Eaglesham

Helensburgh’s numbers were brought back up to full strength when their late arrival came on prior to the game restarting, and for a while it looked like Burgh’s fortunes might be about to turn as they held the upper hand.

But the visitors were rocked within minutes by yet another injury as stand-in keeper Occhiochiuso’s Achilles gave way as he came out to take a through ball, leaving Crookston’s young striker, who had been giving chase more in hope than expectation, with the simple task of rolling the equaliser into the empty net.

With less than 20 minutes played, Helensburgh were forced to place another outfield player in goal, and with no further substitutes available they had no choice but to play on with 10 men – meaning it was no surprise when the hosts took the lead just before half time with a headed goal from a corner.

All credit, though, to the Helensburgh team, who rolled up their sleeves as the second half began and deservedly drew level 10 minutes into the second half as young David Buchanan, one of the lads who had answered the Friday night SOS call, calmly slotted the ball into the net after some good link-up play by Thomas, Steven Conner, Derek Park and David Allan.

READ MORE: Helensburgh boss urges team to cut out mistakes after Westerlands defeat

With 20 minutes left, however, the home side got themselves back in front when they scored from a free kick just outside the box – and they quickly followed that up with a carbon copy fourth goal to leave Helensburgh facing an uphill struggle.

That struggle was made positively mountainous by the second yellow card shown to captain Danny Johns for the foul that led to the free kick, leaving the away team to play the final phase of the match with just nine men.

Although Helensburgh’s commitment has been questioned in some games of late, that certainly can’t be said of the closing stages of the game on Saturday: once again the players dug deep and despite the two-man disadvantage they reduced the arrears when a Crookston defender turned the ball into his own net from a Bailey corner.

Sadly for the visitors, their dreams of a miracle didn’t materialise as Crookston made their numerical advantage count with two more late goals, a fortunate deflection and another free-kick, to seal the points.

READ MORE: Helensburgh crash out of West of Scotland Cup at home to Cambria

Coach Russell Makeham said he was disappointed at the way the game finished but delighted at the attitude of those who took part.

“Considering Friday night was spent trying to get players to make up the numbers,” he said, “we played really well, and I’d be comfortable saying that without the injuries it was a game that we would likely have won.

“We are all gutted for the lads who picked up serious injuries and we wish them all the best in their recovery.”

Squad: Dominic Takel, David Buchanan, Steven Conner, Johnathan Occhiochiuso, David Allan, Ronnie Eskdale, Russell Makeham, Derek Park, Keith Thomas, Daniel Johns, Steven Martin, Stuart Bailey.

This Saturday, November 23, Helensburgh are back on home turf when Eastwood Parkmount A are the visitors to Hermitage Academy. Kick-off is at 2pm.

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Elsewhere on Saturday, Rhu Amateurs’ West of Scotland Cup run was brought to an end at the third round stage after a 3-1 defeat away to Glasgow University.

Adam Sharkey scored the Amateurs’ only goal against a team who currently sit second top of the Caledonian League’s top flght – a division higher than Rhu – at Airdrieonians FC’s Penny Cars Stadium.

READ MORE: Stillwell hits hat-trick as Rhu see off Stirling University challenge

This Saturday, November 23, Rhu return to league duties with a home game against Lochwinnoch side Viewfield Rovers. Kick-off at Ardenconnel Park is at 2pm.