PROUD Spartans boss Dougie Samuel praised the north Edinburgh community for turning out in their numbers and roaring his team on to a William Hill Scottish Cup fifth-round draw with Berwick Rangers.
Ally MacKinnon’s dramatic 93rd-minute equaliser secured a replay at Shielfield a week tomorrow and ensured the Lowland League side will be in today’s draw for the quarter-finals. A bumper crowd of 2504 packed into Ainslie Park, and Samuel felt their support lifted his players as the second half wore on. “It was fantastic,” he said. “One of the things we talked about was to try and give them something to cheer. We needed to get them out their seats and we needed to help them find their voices. Once we got a wee bit of momentum, you could see that the fans just gave us a wee bit more oxygen and a wee bit more sharpness, a bit more in terms of legs.
“This game demonstrated that when the proposition is right, the Spartans family will turn up in numbers and whether that’s youngsters in our youth section, kids from the local schools where we do our community coaching, or whether it’s someone who works in another community organisation in North Edinburgh, I think there’s real momentum now in our community. There’s lots of people on the train if you like, on the journey, to hopefully league football one day.”
Samuel admitted that the visitors were the stronger team for the first part of the match, but felt his side took inspiration from their win over Morton in the previous round, when Jack Beesley scored a last-minute winner. “I think when the board goes up, let’s be honest, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get one late but maybe I should have had a bit more faith bearing in mind we scored late against Morton,” said Samuel.
“I wouldn’t underestimate how important that game was in the context of Saturday’s because it gave us something at half-time to remind the players that they’ve got ability and to back themselves a little bit more. I felt for the first half an hour we perhaps had a little bit of stage fright.”
Spartans’ slow start resulted in Berwick taking the lead within five minutes when Paul Willis’ volley took a nick off a defender on its way past Kevin Swain and into the top corner. Colin Cameron’s side were dominant after the early goal, and had further chances through Darren Lavery and Lee Currie, with a combination of good goalkeeping and brave defending keeping the score at 0-1.
Spartans’ first attempt on goal took 33 minutes, and was a weak shot on the turn from striker Paul Sludden. Iain Thomson then worked Billy Bald in the Berwick goal a little harder with a side-footed effort from 18 yards, before Blair Henderson spurned a golden chance to double Berwick’s lead when he knocked the ball wide from around five yards out. The second period initially looked to be more of the same, with Swain standing up well to save from Lavery when through on goal.
However, Spartans seemed to grow in belief after the Wee Gers’ chances didn’t go in, and Errol Douglas had a great opportunity of his own on 65 minutes. The substitute outmuscled Devon Jacobs and sprinted through on goal, but Bald stayed big to block his stabbed effort.
Fellow sub Alan Brown then fired over after Willie Bremner had found him at the back post with a flick-on from Kevin Motion’s pass, and that looked to have been Spartans last chance before yet more stoppage-time cup heroics.
Jack Nixon’s long throw wasn’t dealt with, and the full-back was allowed to deliver again. Douglas helped it on with his head and MacKinnon, still up from the back, took it on his chest and volleyed home, causing Ainslie Park to erupt.
Nixon’s long throw had proved effective in putting Berwick under pressure throughout the second half, and the defender revealed they’d been under strict instructions to keep that tactic under wraps in the games leading up to Saturday. “We spoke about it previously and spoke about not using it as we knew that they were watching us,” Nixon admitted. “I usually just try and put the ball on whoever’s there, which is normally Willie Bremner – sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t.
“It works in our league, but obviously they’ve got a few big guys who’ll head it all day. We were thinking ‘one last chance, just get it in the box as quickly as we can’. When the ball’s in the air it’s 50/50 – it was just as good as a corner with there being no wind.”
Berwick manager Cameron, who won the Scottish Cup as a midfielder with the Jambos 17 years ago, felt his side should have had the game sewn up, but admitted Spartans were worthy of a replay in the end.
“We’ve got a habit, unfortunately, this season of conceding goals in injury time,” he said. “The game should have been put to bed really, especially in the first half – we got out the traps really well.
“We said at half-time they had nothing to lose and they’d give it a right go and to be fair, they did. They thoroughly deserved the replay.”
Spartans: Swain, Nixon, Cennerazzo, Malone, MacKinnon, Motion (Douglas 63), Beesley, Thomson (Brown 45), Bremner, Sludden (Beacher 80), Stevenson.
Berwick Rangers: Bald, Jacobs, Drummond, Notman, Young, Fairbairn, Gray (Miller 72), Currie, Henderson, Lavery, Willis.