RUSSELL LATAPY made his much-anticipated debut for Edinburgh City in their William Hill Scottish Cup second round tie, but even his polished silky soccer skills could not prevent the home side losing out to the one defensive mistake that the City rearguard made during the entire 90 minutes.
Hibs legend Latapy had not played competitive football since finishing with Falkirk in 2009 but his first touch, his ability to create space coupled with his eye for an opening, and his sublime passes were exquisite for the larger than normal crowd of 775, many of whom had gone to the game simply to see the former Trinidad and Tobago internationalist in action.
Asked about the standard of football played in the cup tie Latapy replied: “A lot of people talk about non-league football in Scotland as being about rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in but that was not the case. Two good football teams tried to get the ball down and pass it around. We thought that we had a chance although we were up against a good, experienced team and the last ten minutes of the game showed that.”
Latapy’s involvement in the action began early when his pass with the outside of his boot set up Douglas Gair who was robbed on the edge of the Irvine Meadow penalty box.
However, on the bobbly Meadowbank surface, the visitors came closest to opening the scoring when a David Hamilton shot bounced awkwardly in front of City goalkeeper Andrew Stobie and the ball rebounded from his chest back to Hamilton whose second attempt was magnificently stopped by Stobie low on the ground.
Immediately after the save City created their best opportunity of the afternoon when Latapy threaded a pass to Robbie Ross and, with only Michael Wardrope in the Irvine Meadow goal to beat, the normally reliable striker pulled his shot wide of the far post.
The City back four were in immense form and Irvine Meadow struggled to get behind them and became more and more frustrated, as did their fans in an atmospheric Meadowbank Stadium. Neither team created any clear-cut chances although a Latapy cross was hit first time by Ian McFarland but it sailed high over the cross bar.
Irvine Meadow started the second half strongly and took the game to City. It was, however, an unfortunate error in the 58th minute that eventually cost City the game.
A long diagonal ball into the right-wing position appeared to be under the control of Ruaraidh Scott who had plenty of time but he was closed down by Richard Barr who made space for a quick cross which David McGeown, the former Hearts player, hit from eight yards and even then the ball took a wicked deflection before it nestled into the net.
City tried to get back on level terms with a Robbie Ross header which landed on the roof of the net and the striker then hit the side-netting after more good work by Latapy. In stoppage time City were denied the equaliser they deserved when a Latapy free-kick was headed back by Michael Dick to Robbie Ross whose header was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Wardrope to seal City’s fate.
“I love football,” said Latapy. “If my involvement with Edinburgh City allows me to point kids in the right direction then I am more than happy to do that. I have commitments but I do have a lot of free time and I am happy to be involved. It is a case of me moving back and forth and doing the things I need to do abroad.
“My legs are feeling okay and I think that for the first 70 minutes I was all right but the last 20 were a bit harder. It’s always a buzz for me to be in the dressing-room with the lads and the warm-up and the banter that goes with it.
“Hibs will always hold a special place for me. It’s the club that introduced me to Scottish football and I had a wonderful time at Easter Road. I have good relationships with the fans and I feel at home in Edinburgh. The Hibs fans turned up at Meadowbank on Saturday and I really appreciated their efforts.”
Gary Jardine, Edinburgh City’s co-manager, said: “Russell’s contribution was fantastic. I don’t think that he gave the ball away in the entire 90 minutes. It has given everybody at the club a lift with him being around.”
Edinburgh City: Stobie, Cennerazzo, K Ross (Howat, 68), Harrison, Scott, McFarland (McFarlane, 62), Devlin, Gair (Dick, 78), R Ross, Latapy, Vanson. Subs: Macnamara, Mackintosh.
Irvine Meadow: Wardrope, Miller, Ryan, McDonald, McGowan, McGuinness, Fleming (McLennan, 89), McGeown, Barr (Strain, 84), Hughes (Turner, 84), Hamilton. Subs: Niven, Hewitt.