GREENOCK Wanderers posted an improved performance at Fort Matilda on Saturday despite being well beaten by a depleted Aberdeenshire side in their BT National League Second Division encounter.

The folly of playing important league games on a Six Nations international Saturday was clear for all to see as two weakened sides, playing in front of Greenock’s smallest crowd of the season, struggled to perform to any great level.

The match as a spectacle was entertaining enough but it lacked the sense of occasion and intensity normally associated with a competitive league game with the dearth of spectators adding to the poor atmosphere.

From Wanderers’ perspective, the feared drubbing by one of the in-form teams in the competition failed to materialise as they tackled bravely throughout and reaped the rewards for what was a sterling rearguard effort.

Up front skipper Murray McDonald, Matt Gray and back row trio Andy Love, Anton Ward and David Smith all caught the eye with their industry and behind the scrum ‘old stager’ Kevin Murray rolled back the years with an outstanding performance that belied his veteran status.

Murray’s experience in managing his back line did much to ensure that Wanderers’ defensive effort had structure and shape and the wily campaigner showed that he still has the nose for sniffing out a chance when he launched several attacks from deep, having taken the initiative to tap and go.

Michael Frizzel and Martin Lavelle responded to Murray’s promptings and looked solid in central midfield and, although attacking opportunities were few and far between, the back three of Fraser Reid, Chris McCarron and Craig Davies worked hard in defence and looked dangerous when in possession.

Aberdeenshire dominated the early exchanges but unforced errors meant that they failed to generate the cohesion and fluency that they are known for.

The visitors did however get on the score sheet on eight minutes when goal kicker Stephen Simpson took full advantage of a penalty opportunity that came his way when the Wanderers pack prevented fair release of the ball at the breakdown.

On 22 minutes the Dons showed their capability when several phases took play deep into Wanderers’ territory.

Crisp ball transference across the back line gave winger Mike MacLugash the chance to score the first try of the match and he sped in at the corner to stretch the lead to 8-0.

The remainder of the half saw both defences on top and Shire looked as if they may blow their slender promotion hopes by failing to get the necessary try scoring bonus point.

The visiting bench need not have worried though as the men from Woodside responded positively in the second half but not before Wanderers’ goal kicker Frizzel slotted an excellent long-range penalty effort to reduce the deficit to 8-3.

Aberdeenshire noted the wake-up call and immediately reasserted themselves and went on the offensive.

On 51 minutes several drives at Wanderers’ line were repelled but nobody could stop powerful prop forward Barney Henderson barging over from short range to stretch the advantage to 13-3. Worse was to follow just after the hour mark when the visitors hit a purple patch and scored three times in a ten minute spell which secured the victory and the much sought after try-scoring bonus point.

On 65 minutes Shire’s number eight Mark McCall, who was the man of the match, picked up at the base of a scrum and drove over from 20 yards out. Simpson’s conversion took the score to 20-3.

Five minutes later the backs showed their flair for attack when a fast flowing move swept towards the Wanderers line.

Quick recycling kept the Greenock defence on the back foot and centre Sean Murchie was the spare man and he found the gap and touched down wide on the left.

The final word and try number five of the afternoon also went to the visitors.

Forwards and backs combined with some impressive phases of play and with the Wanderers defence sucked in the ball was spun wide and number eight McCall was on hand to breeze in at the corner from 15 yards out.

It was objective achieved for Aberdeenshire who kept their promotion ambitions alive by claiming the maximum match points, but the locals can take some positives from what was an improved display when considered alongside some recent performances.

Vice-president Stevie Anderson said: “It was another makeshift selection but the players that came in did well and it was good to see John Stewart and Kevin Murray back in a first team jersey.

“Our young players also produced and David Smith and Anton Ward impressed in the back row and Martin Lavelle had another good game in the centre. We are looking to the future and blooding young players at this stage of the season makes sense ahead of what will be a very difficult campaign next term.” Wanderers have two matches left this season and travel to Falkirk on 28 March before completing their programme against Ardrossan at Fort Matilda on 11 April.

l Wanderers are sponsored by Texas Instruments