“I saw Lochee United at Irvine Meadow so Talbot will have no problem seeing this lot off.” That was the opinion of a certain gentleman sitting behind me in the impressive Beechwood Park stand.
Well, that’s not quite how it turned out as Lochee stunned the East Ayrshire giants and Scottish Junior Cup favourites with a gutsy display that saw them return to Dundee with a valuable 1-0 lead.
No one from Auchinleck was giving the Bluebells much of a chance but the players to a man stood up to the challenge and came through with flying colours.
Having won twice in Ayrshire already it was foolish to write the visitors off and that may have had something to do with a lacklustre first half from the home team, though they did improve and put Lochee under pressure in the second period.
The game itself was quite a scrappy affair with little good passing football played. A strong wind and a whiff of nervousness about both sets of players probably contributed to the ball being punted up and down the field with regular monotony.
Craig Smith got in the first vital interception of the day to stop a Talbot attack in its tracks, but, just four minutes in, the home team’s Jamie Glasgow broke through and fired into the side netting.
Lochee carved out an opening of their own a minute later with Bryan Deasley finding Scott Webster on the edge of the box, but instead of shooting, Webby tried to pass the ball on to Reece Ritchie, who was dispossessed.
This was to prove a common occurrence during the game with Lochee players opting for an extra pass where a shot at goal might have proved more rewarding.
Webster and Ritchie combined once again but Ritchie slipped before he could bring the ball under control.
At the other end skipper Paul Lunan came to the rescue with the first of many headed clearances as Mark Shankland seemed set to head home from a corner on the right.
Lochee were giving as good as they were getting and taking the game to a nervous looking Talbot back line without really threatening home goalie Andy Leishman.
It was an end to end game, mainly because the ball was being punted up and down the park and Auchinleck’s Billy Lyle picked up a stray pass, sending in a cross that was headed narrowly wide by Graham Wilson.
Down at the pavilion end there was a slight scare for the homesters when a Grant Lawson cross was chested down by Neil McPherson and grabbed inches short of the goalline by Leishman.
Deasley then thought he might test Leishman with a shot but, unfortunately, the sting was taken out of it by a deflection.
Leishman illustrated the nervousness of the home defence when he completely misjudged a long ball and he was relieved to grab it from behind with Ritchie ready to pounce.
A minute before the break came the first real moment of quality in the match when Gordon Pope hit a thunderous 35-yard drive that was destined for the top corner until Mark Fotheringham threw himself to his right to brilliantly tip the ball over the bar.
The second half began in controversial fashion with Talbot being awarded a penalty. As the players jostled at a corner kick referee David Dickinson booked Stephen McNally and pointed to the spot.
Even ‘Bot fans didn’t seem to know why it was given, but they were happy to take it.
Stephen Wilson stepped up to the spot but his effort was brilliantly beaten away by Fonzie.
The big keeper was enjoying a purple patch and he brought off another terrific save just minutes later from Talbot danger man Jamie Glasgow.
The home team had come out fired up for the second half after a poor opening 45 and Lunan, Smith, McNally and Greg Kirk at the back had to be at their best to keep out a Talbot side sniffing a breakthrough.
However, it was Lochee who carved out the next chance through Lawson out wide. He played the ball to Deasley just a few yards out but the striker sclaffed his shot and the ball rolled harmlessly to Leishman.
The Bluebells were still having to absorb home pressure with Dougie Cameron, Ritchie and Webster working tirelessly to protect the back four. At this stage there were slim pickings for the front duo of Deasley and Scott McComiskie.
Talbot freshened things up on 71 minutes by bringing on Sean McIlroy for G Wilson and Lochee were forced to do the same on 77 as Deasley had taken some punishment. His replacement was Connor Birse who had notched a hat-trick in the quarter-final against Beith.
A throw-in found McComiskie’s head and almost landed at the feet of Lawson but the chance went abegging.
With six minutes left manager George Shields was forced to bring on Logan Davie for Ritchie, who was suffering from cramp.
Lunan was again the hero when he headed away a dangerous Talbot attack but it looked like Auchinleck had opened the scoring when Glasgow’s shot deflected off Cameron. However, Fonzie clutched the ball as it reached the line.
It was Lunan to the rescue again, heading a dangerous ball into the air with Fonzie finishing the job by tipping it over the bar.
In the final minute of the game Lochee won their first corner of the second half. It looked like their brave stand had earned them a fighting draw but then came the moment all of a Lochee United persuasion will remember.
Breaking upfield, Davie lobbed the ball over the heads of the Auchinleck back line. McComiskie wisely decided not to pursue the ball from an off side position, leaving BIRSE to race through and slot the ball under Leishman for the winner.
We had played a couple of minutes into added time and there was barely time for a response from Auchinleck, leaving Lochee United to celebrate a famous victory.
The home side may point to a string of great saves by Fonzie and the fact that Birse’s goal was the away team’s only shot on target, but they will surely admit that they weren’t at their best and that Lochee deserved their reward for a battling display.
Speaking to Lochee fans after the game, opinions were divided over who was the Man of the Match, with Fonzie, Trigger, Smudger getting most of the mentions, but for me it was Craig Smith, whose timely tackle in the first minute set the tone for a famous victory.
Auchinleck Talbot: Leishman, Lyle, Pope, Harvey, McPherson, S Wilson, White, Hislop, G Wilson (McIlroy 71), Shankland, Glasgow. Subs not used: Hewitt, McCracken, Armstrong, Pooler.
Lochee United: Fotheringham, McNally, Smith, Lunan, Kirk, Webster, Ritchie (Davie 84), Cameron, Lawson, McComiskie, Deasley (Birse 77). Subs not used: Stewart, Millar, Reid.
Written on 14 April 2018