Outclassed, outfought and outplayed. That pretty much sums up Preston Athletic’s 5-0 home defeat to Dalbeattie Star in the South Challenge Cup at the Pennypit.
Given the East Lothian side had sealed their passage into the last four of the Lowland League Cup the previous weekend, a home tie with fellow league opposition Dalbeattie offered a decent chance of another last-four place.
Manager David Bingham had highlighted prior to Saturday’s match the difficulties he was facing in acquiring 11 fit players to take up their positions in the side, a dilemma reinforced just before kick-off when Bingham himself was listed as one of three substitutes on the Preston bench.
And, despite making an entry into the fray as early as the 28th minute, to replace the injured Paul Devlin, the former Livingston and Dunfermline star was unable to generate any sort of response that could rally his troops.
Bingham’s assistant Steven Adamson spoke of his frustrations post-match and felt a couple of individuals were too quick in accepting their fate.
He said: “We probably had about eight players fit playing in the first XI but we never showed enough commitment and rather than roll the sleeves up because of the situation, we went the other way.
“I think a couple went on with a defeatist attitude to begin with so it’s disappointing. I thought we started a bit better in the second half but then we lost our way again.”
The visitors, on the other hand, could sense their opponents’ vulnerabilities and quickly seized the advantage as early as the eighth minute.
Winger John Warren, who proved a real menace all afternoon for the home side’s back-line, sent a deep cross to the back post and there was Hugh Cameron to guide his header beyond a stretching John Gilbertson and into the far corner of the net from ten yards.
There was almost a carbon copy of Star’s opening goal just moments later when Warren’s cross picked out the head of Lewis Sloan but, this time, Gilbertson gathered with ease.
The home side were struggling to retain possession, too many of those in blue looking to rush the ball forward which played right into Dalbeattie’s hands who, in contrast, displayed a composure that was really eye catching.
Danny Dunglinson stung the palms of Gilbertson with an effort from the edge of the box before the ’keeper was beaten for a second time on 25 minutes.
Warren this time teed up the on-rushing Sloan who showed terrific guile and accuracy in bending a 20 yard shot with the outside of his right boot into the top right-hand corner which left Gilbertson with no chance.
Warren and Scott Milligan both spurned further opportunities as Dalbeattie threatened to put the match to bed before the interval, but a combination of the intervention of the Preston No.1 and some wasteful finishing kept Preston with a glimmer of hope upon returning to the field for the second 45.
James Reilly headed wide of the target with Preston’s only notable effort in what had been an hour to forget before Dalbeattie netted a third – and what a strike it was from the industrious Sloan for his second of the match. A fast break from Milligan appeared to have been brought to a halt by the Preston rearguard but, after he laid the ball into the path of the Star No.10, Sloan took one touch before sending a looping shot over Gilbertson and into the top corner via the back post from 25 yards.
Sloan completed his hat-trick seven minutes from the end to complement a man-of-the-match showing when he converted from close range and the damage worsened for Preston before the 90 minutes were up as Warren notched a fifth from the touchline as he capitalised on Gilbertson’s slack pass.
To compound the hosts’ misery, striker Gary McCormack was shown a straight red card for lashing out at Paul Cook in the final minute.
Preston Athletic: Gilbertson, Cherrie, Morrison, Davidson, Dodd, Osbourne, Philp, Thomson, Reilly, McCormack, Devlin (Bingham 28). Subs: Foster, Moore.
Dalbeattie Star: Martin, MacBeth, Robinson (Anderson 80), Wells, Maxwell, Fergusson, Dunglinson, Cameron (Cook 52), Milligan (Gordon 66), Sloan, Warren. Subs: Handling, Drysdale.