Edinburgh City’s Liam Henderson struck an unforgettable equaliser with just four minutes remaining to secure a replay in their William Hill Scottish Cup third-round clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Shaun Rooney’s first-half header at Ainslie Park put the visitors on course for a fourth-round match-up with Lowland League side East Kilbride until defender Henderson struck to earn the Ladbrokes League Two leaders a replay in the Highlands a week tomorrow.
City’s tails were up following their Irn-Bru Cup quarter-final heroics against Alloa eight days previously. However, John Robertson’s Championship side are a resilient group and remain the only undefeated league team in Scotland.
City manager James McDonaugh was hugely impressed with the character shown by his players to come back against a Championship club for the second week running.
“The fact we are still in the tie is testimony to the players’ character. It wasn’t a game for the purists but they just keep going,” McDonaugh said.
“Calum (Antell) has made a couple of good saves earlier on but we then settled down after that. I’m not going to kid myself and think we are as good as Inverness but we stayed in the game. We stuck to our task and never gave up.
“The boys aren’t jumping about delighted but they should be, having drawn at home with a Championship club. But I think that tells you everything you need to know. I don’t know if it’s because they are going to have to get time off their work to go to Inverness on a Tuesday night!
“That was tough but it’s going to be even harder up there. It’s a difficult place to go for Premiership clubs but at least we’ve not allowed them to have it all their own way.
“My biggest worry is still that we’re so thin on the ground in terms of player availability. You make these excuses when you don’t win games and you’re struggling at the bottom but we’ve been like this for weeks.”
Inverness were fast out of the traps and Antell was forced into action after just a couple of minutes when he foiled the advances of Liam Polworth.
Nathan Austin then found himself in acres of space through the heart of the City defence but Welshman Antell brilliantly tipped his effort on to the bar and over for a corner.
Similarly to last weekend’s tussle with Alloa, City gradually settled into the tie and began passing the ball around with purpose. Winger Graham Taylor was first to catch sight of Mark Ridgers’ goal but his right-footed effort didn’t have enough power to trouble the Inverness No.1.
City’s Marc Laird then fed Taylor down the left but, as the ball was cut back into the six-yard box, Blair Henderson got in the way of strike partner Scott Shepherd, whose shot was blocked.
City were putting their bodies on the line at the other end and it paid dividends as a stramash seven minutes before the interval preserved parity.
The Capital side were dealt a blow, however, just a minute later as Polworth’s corner pinged towards the back post and Rooney guided his header beyond Antell.
Coll Donaldson should have at least worked the goalkeeper just a couple of minutes into the second half when former Rangers winger Tom Walsh picked out the defender’s near-post run. However, he miscued his effort wide from just a couple of yards, and boy did he vent his frustration.
City then spurned a golden opportunity with 20 minutes remaining. Robbie McIntyre’s deep corner was headed back across goal by Conrad Balatoni but Allan Smith’s effort from an acute angle went into the side netting.
The Championship men didn’t work Antell to any degree in the final quarter of the tie and they paid the price with little more than four minutes remaining.
City won a free kick deep into Inverness territory and captain Craig Thomson’s stood over the ball. The former Hearts man’s delivery should have been dealt with by either Ridgers or Donaldson but a breakdown in communication presented Henderson with the ball just a couple of yards from goal and the 22-year-old duly lashed it into the net.
Robertson rued his team’s failure to add a second goal.
“Mark has had to deal with one shot all game,” Robertson bemoaned. “It was a silly foul to give away and then there was a lack of communication between our keeper and centre half. The worst we should have been coming away with was a 1-0 win. It’s just a matter of keeping our concentration.
“As the game started to peter out we didn’t maintain our focus and we were punished. I didn’t really see a threat but you sensed a set-play could be their avenue back into the game. They’ve been terrific this season so credit has to go to Edinburgh City for hanging in there.”
Edinburgh City: Antell, Thomson, McIntyre, Black, L Henderson, Balatoni, Laird, Smith, B Henderson, Taylor (Watson 69), Shepherd (Rodger 84). Subs: Morton, Hall, Kennedy, Lumsden.
Inverness: Ridgers, Rooney (Trafford 74), Chalmers, Donaldson, McCart, Polworth, Austin (Oakley 54), Walsh, Welsh, White (MacKay 69), McKay. Subs: Hoban, McGregor, Brown, Harper.
Referee: David Munro.