Ayrshire was the scene of Junior Cup heartache for Bo’ness United once again as holders Hurlford brushed them aside with ease to advance to the last-16.
Just ten miles from Irvine Meadow’s home ground where the BUs lost out at the quarter-final stage last season, the Super League champions were outfought by a side intent on keeping hold of their trophy.
Bo’ness manager Allan McGonigal was left with a heavy heart, but took responsibility for his side’s performance – admitting he got his tactics wrong in a match which had been postponed four weeks in a row.
“We had too many players, particularly in the first half, who were scared,” he said.
“I don’t know what it is when we come down to Ayrshire, but it’s happened two or three times now, that some of the big players don’t perform and that was the case here. I think we gave them too much respect and all credit to them, they scored two good goals.
“We never controlled the game. We had a couple of efforts early in the second half, but I don’t think we ever looked like scoring and they were certainly the better team.
“The shape wasn’t right and I pick the team, so I take the responsibility for that. Sometimes you’ve got to hold up your hands and say you were beaten by a better team.”
Bo’ness were without playmaker Scott Pittman after his move to Livingston on deadline day – a player who would’ve started in the original tie. The visitors’ lack of creativity in the midfield area combined with an industrious Hurlford side, who were first to every ball, determined the outcome of the tie.
The hosts had an appeal for a penalty waved away by referee David Lowe after just three minutes, when Calum Watt fell under a challenge from defender Ross Campbell. Former St Mirren striker Stewart Kean, who notched a double in last year’s final, then tested Bo’ness keeper Stewart Baillie at his near post.
Bo’ness striker Mark Cowan was on the receiving end of a robust challenge from Hurlford debutant David McClune after 15 minutes. The midfielder won the ball, but caught Cowan’s foot on the follow through and the former Broxburn Athletic player was taken off at the break having failed to recover from the knock.
Hurlford winger Paul McKenzie had shown glimpses of his ability early on and he was instrumental in carving open the BUs defence for the opening goal on 27 minutes. His neat footwork got him to the byline and he sent a low cross into the box, which came off Campbell and went goalwards towards Baillie, but the keeper didn’t know anything about it and Ross Robertson pounced to tap in.
Ross Philp cut the ball across goal as the visitors sought an equaliser, but there was no takers and the home side soon made it two.
Robertson played it wide on the right into Danny Mitchell and his cross found its way to the back post where McKenzie was on hand to fire past Baillie, who tried his best to keep it out.
Kean should’ve made it three just before half-time when presented the chance by McKenzie inside the box on the counter, but he sent his shot wide with just Baillie to beat.
McGonigal introduced Kieran Anderson for Cowan at the interval and the youngster provided Bo’ness with more threat than they had possessed in the first period.
Right-back Will Snowdon set him up with a pass down the wing on 60 minutes. The 20-year-old cut inside of his defender and fired goalwards, but Ford keeper Alistair Brown was alert to make his first save of the match, before Darren Gribben arched a shot wide after Chris Donnelly had set him up.
Kean had chances to extend the home side’s lead and the visitors grew frustrated that they couldn’t make the breakthrough – their use of possession wasteful, as they went route one in search of pulling a goal back, with centre-back Stuart Hunter utilised in attack late on.
Robertson may have added a third with a header in the final minute, which he sent over the bar, but the holders progression was secure by then and they’ll face Kilbirnie Ladeside in round five.
Hurlford United: Brown, Cameron, Byrne, G.Mitchell, C.Robertson, D.Mitchell, McKenzie, McClune (Cochrane), Kean (Miller), R.Robertson, Watt (Chisholm).
Bo’ness United: Baillie, Snowdon, Leiper, Murphy, Hunter, Nimmo (Scott), Walker (Gribben), Philp, Cowan (Anderson), Donnelly, Campbell.