SUPER LEAGUE leaders Newtongrange were lucky to escape a shock exit from the Scottish Cup after South Division side Haddington held them to a draw with the replay this weekend.
It was Haddington boss Steve McLeish who was the happier manager afterwards, saying: “I said before the game we would probably get only one chance to win this game but I’ve got players bouncing with confidence for the game this Saturday, It can’t come quick enough.”
Star faced severe pressure from the kick-off but Haddington, despite their determined approach, failed to create any meaningful chances.
McLeish had talked before the game about the need to take whatever chances they had coming their way or their higher-level opponents would punish them, and that is exactly what occurred as the players were thinking of the half-time break.
The opener came from two players McLeish had warned his squad about; two players he knows well – former Haddington stars Sean Jamieson and Jordan Cropley.
A poor goal kick out from home keeper Andy McQueen found Darren Gillon who hoisted a high ball back into the home penalty box where Star’s Jamieson and McQueen tangled for the ball. Jamieson was quickest to react to the loose ball sending it back into the mix. At least two Haddington players had chances to clear but failed allowing Cropley the chance to slam home a shot from 15 yards into the net.
Newtongrange came out for the second half with more conviction with first Chris King then Ally Forster forcing good saves from McQueen. Haddington had the ball kicked off the Star goalline following a corner on the left and, in a real old fashioned stramash in the six-yard box, it was a relieved keeper Keiron Renton who heard the referee blow for a free lick as he frantically grabbed the ball.
Haddington, on pressure alone deserved an equaliser, and with 12 minutes remaining, they did score. It wasn’t pretty but it counted. Left back Michael Noble found himself with the ball on the right wing following a corner. He crossed to Steven McDonald who eventually scrambled the ball through a flurry of legs, over the line despite the best efforts of keeper Renton for a deserved leveller.
There was still plenty of time for either side to get a winner and both sides had chances: Star substitute Paul Tansey fired in a terrific 30-yard effort, but a winner never came. Haddington didn’t deserve to lose this game and could so easily have won it at the first time of asking.
McLeish added: “History tells us that we will find it hard to get a result this week but confidence is huge after that display.
“I’m delighted we didn’t get beat, but, on our second-half performance, we should have won the game.
“The players feel it’s within them to get a result. We had something to prove today and we didn’t give them a chance to get comfortable. We now go to Newtongrange knowing them but they now know us and it all depends on who adapts to what they have learned.”
Newtongrange boss Alan Miller said: “We didn’t turn up. Haddington were the better team and will think they should have won it. People turn up wanting to see an upset and Haddington will be disappointed they didn’t beat us but we live to fight another day.” Cropley said: “I thought my goal was going to be the winner but they deserved a goal and could have won the game. We were poor but Haddington made sure we were poor.”
Haddington goalscorer Steven MacDonald added: “The goal wasn’t too bad.
“The ball came off my chest and my legs, but they all count. We had opportunities to win and the lads are disappointed not to beat them.
“We matched them and the lads are taking a lot from the way we played rather than if they were poor. We showed we can compete at a higher level and that’s our aim.”
Haddington: McQueen, Mattie Lynch, Noble, Gallagher, Motion, Bracks, Waugh, Wilson, MacDonald, Martin, Ponton. Subs: Carter, Connaghan, Michael Lynch, McEwan, Slight.
Newtongrange Star: Renton, Swaney, Noble, Tolmie, Gibson, Cherrie, Cropley, Gillon, Forster, King, Jamieson. Subs: O’Reilly, Deland, Tansey, Shields, Amos.