Callum Graham once again underlined his importance to Ashfield by netting an opportunist brace, albeit his second goal only after a considerable helping hand from referee Barry Cook, in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Vale of Clyde.

Manager Paul Maxwell further endorsed the big striker's worth with his after match summations.

He said: "I'm sure Cal would agree that he did not have the best of games by his own high standards but he's still weighed in with two goals and provided an attacking threat that kept the Vale defence on their toes throughout.

"We had been forced to manoeuvre things around a bit today as eight players were posted missing but the guys who came in, inclusive of two academy hopefuls, did very well in the circumstances and today’s result will provide a huge boost to confidence.

"At 1-1 the game could have gone either way and we needed the energy of Baz Hepburn and Colin Loveridge to get us on top however you always need an out ball and that’s what Callum gave us."

The home side made a dream start in forging ahead with only five minutes played as Graham and Kieron Friel combined for the latter named to unleash a low shot that Vale No.1 Connor Blades saved but then inexplicably spilled allowing Ashfield midfielder Nikky McLaughlin to knock home from six yards for 1-0.

The goalkeeper then redeemed himself with a terrific diving stop to keep out a powerful netbound Graham drive shortly before the visitors came within inches of drawing level as a fiercely hit Brendan McGhee strike rebounded back off the upright.

Vale of Clyde were more to the fore on the second-half resumption and their early pressure told nearing the hour mark after Martin Welsh was downed by a crude challenge some 20 yards out allowing team-mate Luke Kelly to exquisitely curl home the resulting free kick award.

Goalkeeping substitute Don Scott's superb one-handed save kept out a Graham shot before also denying Robert O’Donnell at close range however he blotted his copybook in 76 minutes when unable to hold onto a shot from Craig Sideserf (brother of Junior internationalist Mark) and the lurking Graham scored from point-blank range.

A stunning and highly controversial third goal sealed matters for Ashfield going into the closing stages as an intended pass was inadvertently diverted by whistler Cook into the path of Graham and he went past a defender and from almost on the byeline fired a powerful shot in off the underside of the crossbar to beat Scott all ends up to make the scoreline read 3-1.

Newly mandated footballing rules dictate a dropped ball should occur when the ball strikes a referee but Tin Pail gaffer Mark McKay’s vehement protestations to this effect only culminated in him receiving a yellow card however he was considerably becalmed by the time it came to giving his viewpoint following the final whistle.

He reasoned: "Players need friendly matches after almost six months of inactivity to get themselves into the groove and the same clearly applies to referees as Mr Cook has made an honest mistake which has cost us dearly.

"The other two goals conceded have been goalkeeper errors so overall I’m happy with our showing considering our squad contains so many young players coming into this level for the first time.

"Adapting to a very heavy pitch today as well a battle for possession today is something they will have to do quickly because there will be a lot more games of a similar ilk."

Ahead of tomorrow night’s crunch vote by member clubs on whether to start the inaugural WOSFL season this month or to delay it further and maybe even abandon the prospect altogether, this Saracen Park contest played on a sodden pitch amid a constant downpour provided plenty of food for thought.

Both sets of players arrived , already kitted out in strips bearing squad numbers, and placed their belongings (at a social distance) around Saracen Park’s stand but this new norm was harder to stomach at the final whistle when changing out of rain-soaked  togs and muddy boots to journey home by cars.

Elsewhere in the city, Maryill went down 4-2 against Kilwinning Rangers for whom Ally McColm(2), Jamie Whyte and Jordan Stuart were on target while Pollok hammered Shettleston 6-1 with scores from Iain Russsell(2), Chris Dallas, Stuart McCann, Adam Forde and Ryan McGregor (pen).

Willie McLaren bagged a double as Cambuslang Rangers won 2-0 against Bellshill Athletic while, counters from Ian Gold and Alex Cassells saw Rob Roy best Gartcairn by a 2-1 scoreline and Petershill racked up a 5-3 victory over Carluke Rovers.

Sam McKenzie and Liam McLaughlin scores enabled Blantyre Vics to twice come back from falling behind to Stephen O’Neil goals for Cumbernauld Colts however John Gibson’s men could not stage another recovery after Cammy Foy netted again for the Colts

Rutherglen Glencairn had better luck against Lowland League opponents after Harry Mitchell and Michael Lone goals resulted in a 2-1 defeat of East Kilbride for whom Chris Erskine netted  while a couple of goals apiece by Lewis Morrison and Michael Wardrope saw Hurlford United come out on top at home to Neilston  whose close season striker signing from Morton, Kieran Brophy was on target.

Friendly Results East Kilbride FC 1 Rutherglen Glencairn 2, Ardeer Thistle 3 Neilston Amateurs 0, Hurlford Utd 4 Neilston 1, Carluke Rovers 3 Petershill 5, Cumbernauld Colts 3 Blantyre Vics 2, Johnstone Burgh 1 St Roch's 1, Cambuslang Rangers 2 Bellshill Athletic 0, Ashfield 3 Vale of Clyde 1, Gartcairn 1 Rob Roy 2, Bonnyton Thistle 1 Kilmarnock XI 2, Kilsyth Rangers 1 Cumbernauld Utd 4, Wishaw 1 Shotts Bon Accord 3, Pollok 6 Shettleston 1, Maryhill 2 Kilwinning Rangers 4, Yoker Athletic 4 Greenock 1.