Jul 27 2012 By John Woods
KILWINNING Rangers ended last season with a 1-0 defeat at Meadow Park and started this one with a 2-1 reverse in the Irvine side's Invitational Tournament.
And in many ways it was a similar encounter with Buffs on the back foot for much of the match, but doing well against their more illustrious neighbours before going down to a a quality Liam McGuinness strike.
All eyes were on the new faces in the Irvine Meadow ranks, especially Tom Brighton, whose pace and movement will pose a real threat to Junior defences, and he was ably backed up by Colin Stevenson, Willie Kinniburgh, John Paul McKeever, Robert Halliday and Colin Burns who grabbed a real striker's goal.
Meanwhile Buffs looked to have unearthed a real prospect in pacy sweeper Martin Reynolds, who might have been the smallest man on the park, but was never afraid to put in a tackle and seemed to attract the ball like a magnet.
Brighton came close twice and Mick Hart shot wide at the other end in the opening exchanges then Ben Lewis raced onto a great Hart pass and trailed the ball round keeper Michael Wardrope only to hit his shot into the side netting.
Buffs keeper Ally McGhee threw himself full length to tip a Brighton rocket round his left hand post, an angled Burns drive clipped the top of the Kilwinning bar and Reynolds was lucky not to be booked when he halted a Meadow attack with a cynical foul on David Hamilton just outside the box.
Lewis hammered high and wide after good work by Stuart Moodie but it was Meadow who ended the half on top with McGhee making a flying save from a Burns rocket and Brighton meeting a Halliday corner only to see Reynolds clear off the line.
Buffs rang the changes at the start of the second half but it was still Meadow who looked the more dangerous, especially from Halliday's set pieces and another of his flag kicks found Mark Campbell but this time Barry Fleeting made the goal-line clearance.
The deadlock was finally broken in 59 minutes and again Halliday was the creator with a terrific drilled left wing cross which saw Burns cleverly get across his marker to turn the ball home at the near post.
Meadow sub Frank Gibson saw a good effort curl wide at the last second, Campbell met another Halliday corner only to see sub keeper Fraser Stewart pull off an instinctive save but it was Buffs who shocked their hosts in 68 minutes when Bruce McMaster's flighted pass caught Meadow's central defenders in No-Man's Land and Ally Ross kept his cool to slip the equaliser past the advancing Wardrope.
However the home side booked their place in the final six minutes later when Brighton collected a right wing throw, spotted McGuinness in space just outside the box and the midfielder met his cutback to drill an unstoppable effort into the far corner.
Reynolds cleared a Burns header off the line then, as Halliday's corners continued to cause problems, Campbell twice outjumped Neil Shearer only to see Stewart make two terrific blocks before Wardrope turned a Gary Russell effort for a corner in the dying seconds.
In Saturday's other game Troon had a 4-0 win over Cumbernauld who also lost 2-1 to Kilwinning in Sundays third place play-off.
Meadow then beat Troon 6-0 in the final to lift the trophy.