St Andrews United: Boss Robbie Raeside hails two-goal hero Lewis Sawers after his double earns crucial 2-1 home league win over Preston Athletic
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The 22-year-old ex-Crossgates Primrose winger gave Saints an early lead by slotting home from close range and then netted an 81st minute winner with a dipping shot after Athletic had equalised through Robbie Walker’s scrappy effort on 66 minutes.
“Lewis has been invaluable,” Raeside told the Herald and Citizen. “He’s been, without doubt, one of our top performers.
"There’s no doubt he’s been a special player for the club and scored some wonderful goals.
"It’s a team game and other players have contributed as well – for example our two centre-backs Scott Reekie and Kyle Sneddon and the goalie Callum Brodie were also excellent against Preston Athletic – but Lewis has been the X factor for this side.
"His winning goal on Saturday was just a touch of brilliance. Lewis is not an out and out centre forward, he’s an attacking wide player which makes the number of goals he’s scored even more remarkable.
"Saturday is probably the first time he’s been fully fit for about a month as he’s had a hamstring injury.
"There’s no doubt that we’ve struggled for goals as a team when he’s been out.”
Raeside said that Sawers was a ‘key man’ in Saints’ promotion push, but stressed that the player could only express himself in an attacking way due to the hard work of team-mates around him.
"I’d never heard of Lewis Sawers when I took the job 18 months ago,” Raeside said. “But the first time I saw him I was impressed.
"I’m really delighted with the way he’s progressed over the last year and he’s taken things on board that myself and Garry Wright (assistant manager) have hit him with.
"I also think there’s still more to come and there’s bits of his game he can still improve. He likes being at St Andrews. His contract expires next summer and we’re speaking to him about extending that.
"Lewis likes working with myself and Garry so we’re hopeful he’ll sign a new contract sooner rather than later.”
Saints – whose scheduled home East of Scotland Qualifying Cup third round tie at home to Rosyth on Wednesday night was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch – resume their league campaign at home to bottom club Vale of Leithen this Saturday, kick-off 2.30pm. Raeside’s men will start as warm favourites to see off the Borderers, who have lost all 10 league fixtures this season.
He added: “I don’t think any game’s easy until you get a few goals up. If your attitude’s correct in a game and you get a few goals up, that’s the only time football becomes easy.
"You’ve got to apply yourselves and focus to get into that situation and we’ll certainly not be taking anything for granted on Saturday.
"I’m confident complacency won’t be an issue for us against Vale of Leithen. I think complacency/having one eye on Albion Rovers was an issue in the recent games at Rosyth and Leith, but I think the players have learned their lessons from that.
“We’ve got five players out injured that could all be starters so the players that are there know they need to be at it.
"We’ll be meeting earlier on Saturday to make sure we’re ready to go from the first whistle and get the three points.
"We’ve got a lot of cup fixtures coming up so we need to pick up three points on Saturday.”
St Andrews’ tally of 24 points from 11 games leaves them fourth, just three points behind leaders Whitburn who have a game in hand. But despite this, Raeside's team are one place outside the promotion positions as they trail third-placed Camelon Juniors on goal difference.
Raeside said: “I think there are teams below as well that have obviously taken points off us all so I think it’s a really competitive league.
"The results have proved that – apart from Vale of Leithen – anybody can take points off another team on their day.
"We are joint second – that’s the way I see it – and it’s a tremendous position to be in.
"Whitburn and Camelon are spending big money in the league we’re in and Dunipace (who are second) are an established team in this league.
"For us to be up there competing with them is fantastic. Our aim is to be up there all season and try to achieve promotion. I guarantee we’ll hang in there and fight to the end of the season.”
Meanwhile, St Andrews United’s Under 20s won 5-0 at Dalgety Bay Swifts on Friday evening.
Lucas McKimmie scored twice inside 25 minutes to give Saints an early lead then Jake Duncan notched an own goal on the half-hour mark as the hosts fell apart.
Aiden Mackenzie subsequently made the score 4-0 in the 43rd minute and Ryan Anderson added a fifth with quarter of an hour remaining.The young Saints are now up to third place in the Central League table with 16 points from seven matches and they could go second by winning their two games in hand over Jeanfield Swifts.