Both Preston Athletic and Whitehill Welfare experienced the harsh reality of cup football last weekend.
The Lowland League clubs, who will go head to head tomorrow, have followed identical pathways over the past fortnight, securing replays after drawing 2-2 in the Scottish Cup away to SPFL League Two sides before bowing out of the this year’s competition at the second hurdle last Saturday – both ties finishing 2-1 in favour of the higher league opposition.
The much-publicised fracas that occurred at Pennypit after the home side had pulled a goal back in the second half has come under scrutiny after the players exited the field of play for a short spell while the police restored order around the touchlines.
However, Preston Athletic manager David Bingham has been in the game long enough to know that while it wasn’t an ideal situation to be faced with, he isn’t assigning the blame for their cup loss on such an incident.
“Going off after we scored certainly didn’t help us because goals change games and we’d just got ourselves back into the match,” Bingham said about the defeat to Queen’s Park. “It’s all a case of ‘ifs and buts’ but what I do know is the players gave everything for two games and on another day it might just have been our day.
“We’re out the cup and we’ve just got to move on, but the players can take a lot from the experience and can see that there is not a lot between the two levels in a one-off.
“It was great for the club and for the community to get that kind of exposure. Last Sunday I was at my folks’ and was looking through the papers comparing the crowds out of curiosity and, outwith the Championship in Scotland, we had the biggest crowd by far, so it just shows the kind of interest these games can generate.”
The East Lothian side welcome opponents Whitehill, who themselves have been harbouring some aggrievances after losing a goal deep into injury time to Stirling Albion at Ferguson Park – some of referee Colin Steven’s decisions inflicting several moments of controversy throughout the 90 minutes and none more so than the decision to issue a straight red card to Whitehill defender Gareth Thom, with just over 15 minutes remaining and the score level at 1-1.
Manager Mickey Lawson was rather vocal in his post-match assessment of the officials, but is keen to move forward starting with trying to secure the three points tomorrow.
He said: “All we can do now is look forward. We’ve given a SPFL League Two side a run for their money over two games and with 15 seconds left, they’ve managed to get through.
“We’ve got to look at the positives, but tomorrow is interesting because Preston suffered exactly the same. I think the Scottish Cup proved there isn’t a great deal between the Lowland League and what used to be the SFL. I suppose both ourselves and Preston have made a wee bit of money out of the ties and it also helps our league too.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of Scottish Cup games over the years and the lesser teams never seem to get the breaks on the big occasion, but our boys did us proud.”
Despite their heroic cup efforts, the reigning East of Scotland champions currently sit towards the lower depths of the table having won just three of their eight league matches played – a statistic Lawson cannot emphasise enough must improve.
He added: “We can’t just do it against the big boys and must start to climb the table as we haven’t been at our best so far.”