If winning ugly is a hallmark of a successful side then Edinburgh City have that box well and truly ticked.
James McDonagh’s League Two leaders have played some silky stuff so far this season, but they proved they can also do it the hard way as they edged out local rivals Civil Service Strollers in the second round of the William Hill Scottish Cup, to make it 12 victories on the bounce.
Strollers came intent on trying to halt the City bandwagon but Robbie McIntyre’s sublime second half free-kick finally broke down their resistance to set up a tasty third-round home tie against clash Championship club Inverness Caledonian Thistle. It will be the visitors, though, not City, that will approach that match next month with trepidation in what is a tie they would have certainly wished to avoid.
Left-back McIntyre, McDonagh’s first signing as City boss in the summer, was appearing in the Scottish Cup for the first time after three seasons with East of Scotland club Tynecastle.
“We knew it was always going to be a tough one,” said the 24-year-old. “I think we maybe approached it in the wrong way at first, it took us a bit time to get going and once we started going a bit more direct we seemed to get a bit more luck.
“I thought Civil Service worked really hard all over the pitch. Whenever you are an underdog, even us in the game last week against Arbroath, you want to win the game even more because people are doubting you; that was the case on Saturday.
“You have to be able to adapt when things aren’t going your way in the game. It is important that everyone sticks together. We were getting on each other’s backs a bit but that is bound to happen when things aren’t going your way.
“The gaffer and the team together, we always seem to find a way to win one way or another, we’ve proven that in the last however many games.
“The lads are flying and the reason we are flying is because we’ve got such a good dressing room. Everyone has the desire to win, we get on great together and there are just good vibes in the changing room, which obviously plays a part in us doing well.”
Fresh from their Irn-Bru Challenge Cup heroics against League One Arbroath last week, City were expected to steamroll their Lowland League opponents, guided by former City boss Gary Jardine.
It wasn’t to be that way, however, and the visitors should have been celebrating after just six minutes. City’s Liam Henderson was robbed of possession on the edge of his own box, allowing striker Steven Froude a free shot at goal but the ball bounced wide of goalkeeper Calum Antell’s left post.
Everyone inside Ainslie Park expected City striker Blair Henderson to net his 16th goal of the season after 11 minutes, but from six yards out he somehow pulled the ball wide of the post when it looked easier to score.
Resolute Strollers were prepared to defend for their lives and on-loan Hibs youngster Kevin Waugh epitomised that spirit when he put his body on the line to block Blair Henderson’s goalbound strike and then celebrated like he had just scored a goal.
City’s Marc Laird didn’t appear for the second half after going down with a hamstring injury just prior to the interval, with Adam Watson introduced.
Midfielder Andy Black forced Civl keeper Kyle Rankin to produce his first meaningful save after 47 minutes, and Scott Shepherd showed some neat footwork down the right as the home side ramped up the tempo.
Blair Henderson then headed just over the bar at the near post as he tried to squeeze the ball in at a tightest of angles.
Civil were eager to have a go themselves, however, and after Mark McConnell relentlessly chased down Liam Henderson, the defender gifted possession away deep inside his own half. The ball eventually landed at the feet of former City player Ross Guthrie, but he scuffed his effort.
City eventually made the breakthrough on 71 minutes with McIntyre brought down late on the edge of the box and he claimed the ball, sending a left-footed effort over the wall and past the outstretched arm of Rankin.
Civil’s Shaun Turnbull was denied a late penalty after going down under Conrad Balatoni’s challenge inside the six yard box, with referee Stephen Brown having none of it.
It proved to be an unhappy reunion for Civil boss Jardine, but his side can take a lot out of their performance as they look to compete at the top end of the Lowland League.
Jardine said: “We’re disappointed. Edinburgh City have scored a lot of goals and created lots of chances [this season]. First and foremost we had to try and stop them from getting as many chances as they’ve had in recent weeks, and I felt we did that.
“Our success was the first-round win against a top Highland League side (Forres Mechanics). We can now look at cups we can win and aim to do better in the league.
“The proof will be how we do over the next few weeks and that will tell, it’s OK doing it for one game and being competitive, let’s see if we can do it week in, week out.
“The aim is to improve week in, week out, month in, month out and try to emulate what Edinburgh City have done. Over the last nine months the club has come on leaps and bounds, both on the pitch and off it. We’ve got a lot to be proud of. We’ll go away and try and build what we did on Saturday.”
Opposite number McDonagh claimed their performance as the poorest so far of his tenure, saying: “It was a stuffy and horrible game but we are through and that’s all that matters.
“I’m disappointed with our performance, I’m disappointed with loads of things; it is probably the worst we’ve played. We weren’t at our best and it was always going to be difficult playing a against a team that sat 11 men behind the ball.”
Edinburgh City: Antell, McIntyre, Black, Balatoni, Laird (Watson) Smith (Rodger), B Henderson, Taylor, Stewart, Shepherd (Hall), L Henderson.
Civil Service Strollers: Rankin, Fee, Mair, Clapperton, Turnbull, Guthrie (Murray), McConnell, Ballantyne, Froude (Bakar) Waugh, Churchill (Hopkinson).