Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale boss Raymond Carr reckoned his team could have won the tie after a much-improved second-half display in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Huntly in the William Hill Scottish Cup third round.
David Booth’s strike had the Black and Gold’s ahead at half-time, but Scott Gormley levelled for a fired up Lothian to ensure the teams will do it all again at Saughton this weekend.
While the East of Scotland side looked more likely to win it, Carr was happy to still be in tomorrow’s fourth-round draw after a sluggish first-half showing.
“I think we could have snuck it at the end but first half we were absolutely terrible,” he conceded. “Maybe the nerves kicked in. We weren’t too happy with the park and one or two moans and things like that but they’ve just got to adapt and adapt quickly. This is what it’s like.
“We got them in at half-time and there was a few harsh words to say and I think that turned it round. The boys gave all really, a really good performance in the second half; they did what they should have been doing from the first whistle.”
There was no doubting this was a cup tie, with two early yellow cards and some strong challenges provoking an enthusiastic response both on the pitch and in the stands, with Edinburgh-based ref Gavin Ross on the receiving end of ‘constructive criticism’ from the home fans in Christie Park’s main stand.
The first opening for either team came just after 20 minutes. Booth was sent racing clear of the Lothian back line and tried to lift the ball over the out-rushing Kevin Swain, who managed to stay big enough to divert the ball out for a corner. Swain then had to palm away a vicious strike from Alex Thoirs as the hosts started to build momentum.
Scott Taylor-MacKenzie’s well struck free kick was Lothian’s only shot in anger until that point, and it looked as if it could have worried Fraser Hobday in the Huntly goal had it not clipped the wall on it’s way to goal.
Booth had looked the most likely to break the deadlock, and he put the Highland League side in front on 39 minutes. His throw to Dean Donaldson was returned to him and his low, first-time effort unexpectedly bounced over Swain and into the far corner.
Lothian were far sharper after the break and looking more of a threat. Some neat interplay allowed Willis Hare a sight of goal but the striker couldn’t keep his drive down. Their best chance came shortly after, Gormley beating the offside trap and scampering through, but missed the target completely when he really should have levelled.
Taylor-MacKenzie was next to threaten, driving forward from left back, but his effort from inside the area was well held by Hobday. The left back tried again from distance and Hobday just about managed to palm it over with an unorthodox save.
The inevitable Lothian leveller came with 20 minutes remaining. Kevin Brown raced clear after a ball over the top from Richie Wilkes and the wide man would have been justified in trying to beat Hobday himself, but he squared unselfishly for Gormley who slid it into the empty net.
There only looked one likely winner as the game wore on, and Dean Cummings went close to scoring a second for Lothian, looping a header over from Taylor-MacKenzie’s cross.
Booth was far less involved in the second 45, a wayward shot from the edge of the area the sum total of his attacking threat.
Lothian were forced to see out stoppage time with ten men. Eddie Mearns, who was initially booked for a cynical foul, was shown a second yellow after the referee adjudged him to have dived after a driving run into the box.
Carr didn’t have any complaints over his captain’s dismissal. “I think Eddie’s done a silly thing,” he noted. “He’s said that it was a coming together but I think the referee got it right.”
Opposite number Mark Gray is in charge of Huntly on an interim basis after previous manager Gregg Carol resigned for personal reasons. He admitted that made preparation trickier for a tie against a team he rates. “It’s been a tricky couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s not been ideal. It’s meant we’ve not really been able to train properly and on Wednesday night we had a few things to sort out but you take it on the chin.”
“Next week’s going to be a tough game. They beat Montrose and a strong Junior team in Kelty Hearts in the first round – they’re no mugs. Their confidence in and use of the ball, you could see in the second half so it’ll be a good game next week.”
Huntly: Hobday, Allan, Urquhart, Clark, Wood, McCulloch, Thoirs, Cruikshank, Booth, Donaldson (Dorrat 64), Murison.
Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: Swain, Moore, Taylor-MacKenzie, Wilkes, Crawford, Mearns, Brown (Kerr 75), Cummings, Gormley (Hendry 82), Smith (O’Donnell 66), Hare.