Whitehill Welfare manager Mickey Lawson cut a forlorn figure on the touchline as Stirling Albion struck deep into injury time to progress 2-1 through to the third round of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Proving more than a match for their SPFL League Two opponents, the Rosewell club can look back on a performance that merited much more for their endeavours over the course of the two ties.
Stirling Albion’s match winner, Sandy Cunningham, may have hit the headlines for his late header that sealed victory, but there was sure to be an overwhelming sense of relief as the team bus journeyed back up the M9.
Referee Colin Steven’s decision to send Whitehill defender Gareth Thom off with 17 minutes remaining was a big call to make, the majority in attendance completely bemused by the straight red after what appeared to be a hard, but fair challenge.
“I’ve been in the game long enough to know that the wee teams don’t get the breaks against the big teams,” Lawson said. “We missed the best two chances of the game and had a stonewall penalty turned down, and the sending off was dubious to say the least. We should have won the game with the chances, but you don’t get decisions at our level.”
Lawson was certainly accurate in his assessment with regards to his side carving out the best openings – Wayne McIntosh, in particular, passing up a glorious opportunity just shy of 20 minutes after a long ball was misjudged by the Stirling rearguard allowing the No. 9 to run through on goal before the striker hesitated and his weak effort was blocked by goalkeeper David Crawford.
Stirling took the lead against the run of play when winger Phil Johnston cut in from the right and struck a rasping drive which Ryan McGurk did tremendously well to tip the ball onto the near post, but Jordan White converted the loose ball into the back of the net. However, the home side were deservedly level right on the stroke of half-time when Andrew Kidd’s corner was headed straight into the top corner by Albion defender Jamie Bishop.
The Lowland League outfit were fast out of the traps after the break and were really pressing their opponents deeper into their own territory.
Referee Steven waved away shouts for a penalty after McIntosh’s cross into the box appeared to strike the hand of defender Chris Smith before Wayne Sproule went close after a surging run up the left.
Former Hearts striker Graham Weir was introduced by the visitors in an attempt to spark some energy into the final third, but the moment of controversy followed when Thom was dismissed after a tackle on Albion’s Daniel Ashe in front of the dug outs.
This decision was not met with approval by the Whitehill players and management team who protested profusely, but the ten-men continued to hold their nerve with extra-time edging ever nearer.
However, with just seconds remaining, Weir cleverly spun away from his marker and charged towards the by-line before sending a pinpoint cross to the onrushing Cunningham, who bulleted his header past McGurk to send a modest Stirling contingent behind the goals into raptures.
Stirling manager Greig McDonald said: “Scoring in the very last minute, teams have done that to us before so we need to take confidence as it’s been a tough couple of weeks. We’re not going to kid ourselves, it wasn’t the prettiest of performances but the objective of the game is to get into the next round of the cup and we’ve managed to do that.”
Whitehill Welfare: McGurk, McGlashan, Thom, Bruce, W Kidd, Robertson (Somerville 74), Manson, A Kidd, McIntosh, McLaughlin (Martin 87), Sproule. Subs: Young, Noon, Dolan, Shearer, Finnie.
Stirling Albion: Crawford, Ashe, McAnespie, McClune, Bishop, Smith, Johnston (Cunningham 87), Forsyth, White, Fulton (Weir 68), Ferry. Subs: Coyne, McGeachie, Clark, Paton, Reidford.