One bus breaking down is unfortunate, two ... well.
However, Whitehill Welfare snatched a 94th-minute equaliser to claim a 2-2 draw away to Wick Academy on Saturday, keeping their name in the hat for Thursday’s William Hill Scottish Cup second round draw – something even the most ardent Scorries fan would find difficult to begrudge them following a nightmare journey north.
Such trips present not insignificant cost at this level, Whitehill spending just over £2000 to try and prepare properly. Departing Midlothian at 5.30pm for an overnight stop in Inverness before completing the 250 mile plus drive to Harmsworth Park became an eight-hour slog after the Ferguson Park club’s bus broke down – twice.
Callum Connolly, pictured, who opened the scoring for Grant Carnie’s side, reflected on what was far from ideal preparation for their biggest game of the season to date. “Having the two buses break down wasn’t the best,” he said, somewhat understatedly. “The first one broke down so we were stuck in Pitlochry for about an hour and a half. Then the second bus came and we were only on that one for about half an hour before it started smoking – I don’t know where from, it must have been from the engine. Then we had to wait another hour and a half for the other bus and when that finally came we still had just under two hours to travel, so we didn’t get there until late – it was a nightmare.
“As soon as the second bus broke down, no-one could be bothered! We just wanted to get up to Inverness and get some sleep. I think I got about six hours sleep maybe – we didn’t get up there until about half two in the morning and then we were up early to travel to Wick from Inverness. We knew it was going to be a tough game even if we had the perfect preparation and adding that to it makes it even harder.”
If Connolly was lacking in energy, it wasn’t evident as he gave his team the lead in stunning fashion, nutmegging a challenging defender before arrowing the ball into the top corner. Wick appeared to have won it late on but Andy Martin’s last-gasp leveller meant Friday’s travel farce wasn’t in vain. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit a sweeter strike in my life,” Connolly admitted. “As soon as they scored I was thinking about the bus journey home and how everyone would be gutted. It was as good as win really. With them scoring so late we thought that was us beat but then you get the equaliser and you treat it as a win. I think we deserved it after how much we put into the game and our bad luck on the journey up.”
The Highland League club will want to avoid similar misfortune themselves as the teams go again at Ferguson Park on Saturday, with Connolly confident Welfare are capable of going one better than last Saturday with the home crowd behind them. “I don’t know how many were there exactly but there was a big crowd,” he said. “They started stirring it up a bit when they scored and were loud as anything but hopefully that’s the case for us on Saturday.
“We didn’t know much about Wick but now we know a bit more about them I think we can set up and give ourselves the best chance of going through.”