Edinburgh City manager James McDonaugh admitted his players are fortunate to be in the draw for the last 16 of the Irn-Bru Cup after a topsy-turvy affair saw them edge out East Kilbride 3-2.
In-form striker Blair Henderson had given the Ladbrokes League Two club a slender first-half lead only for their advantage to be wiped out with two goals in 60 seconds. Firstly, Ross McNeil and then Craig Malcolm looked to have won it for Kilby, but a late quick-fire double from substitute Allan Smith – who had only been on the park for seven minutes – secured City’s fifth win on the trot.
However, despite his relief at coming through the tie, McDonaugh was far from impressed with his side’s display.
“Credit has to go to East Kilbride as I thought they were the better team,” an honest McDonaugh said afterwards.
“To play so badly and win shows character to come back, so I suppose that’s the pleasing side of it. I said to the players before the game that we would be favourites, which is something we haven’t really had this season, so I feel I’ve found out a bit more about them. We could easily have been beaten after going 2-1 behind but I think it sums up the spirit we’ve had these last two to three months. It’s great for the club to get into the last 16 of a national cup competition, which is unheard of.
“You think your luck is in when you make substitutions that come off but these things can also go against you. Allan has been doing really well but he’s been struggling with an injury so we’ve had to manage him carefully. The goals will do him a world of good.”
McDonaugh was forced into a late change when Kieran Stewart pulled up in the warm-up and had to be replaced Marc Laird, who himself has just overcome a recent ankle knock.
It was a fairly subdued opening half hour at K-Park with neither side really showing much attacking intent. City always carried an aerial threat with Henderson but it was strike partner Scott Shepherd who was first to catch a glimpse of Matt McGinley’s goal, shooting over after being picked out from a Craig Thomson cutback.
The visitors grabbed the initiative in the 38th minute, much to the delight of their small band of supporters who had made the trip to South Lanarkshire.
The Kilby rearguard were caught out by a long ball and Graham Taylor set up Danny Handling, whose perfectly-weighted pass slid in Henderson for the former Stirling Albion frontman to finish low into the bottom corner for his ninth goal of the season.
Substitute Michael Anderson’s drive from 25 yards just after the break wasn’t too far wide of Calum Antell’s right-hand post as the home side started to show a bit more purpose in the City half.
Impressive link-up play between Robbie McIntyre and Taylor then had the former in on goal but his cutback was cleared by McGinley as City chased a second.
However, Lowland League side Kilby found themselves deservedly back on level terms when City failed to clear a free-kick and McNeil took advantage, turning on the edge of the box to fire the ball through a ruck of players and beyond Antell.
And 60 seconds later the hosts found themselves ahead as Malcolm stooped to head home at the back post.
But the Capital side are a resilient group this term and McIntyre’s pinpoint cross saw Smith loop his header back across goal and into the net in a frantic ten-minute spell.
And there was further joy for City just two minutes later as Calum Hall, another second-half substitute, crossed for Smith to complete a stunning comeback.
East Kilbride: McGinley, Stevenson, Coll, Howie, Reid, Holmes, Winter, Brady (Anderson 28), Malcolm, McNeil (Longworth 77), Woods (Craig 79). Subs: Kean, McInally, Capuano, Lynch.
Edinburgh City: Antell, Thomson, McIntyre, Black, Balatoni, Laird, L Henderson, Handling (Smith 77), B Henderson, Shepherd (Hall 79), Taylor. Subs: Morton, Kennedy, Lumsden, Rodger.
Referee: Steven Kirkland