PENICUIK ATHLETIC player-boss Craig Meikle hailed his side’s battling qualities as they secured their first Scottish Junior Cup quarter-final in 45 years – then insisted a win over Musselburgh Athletic this Saturday would eclipse last season’s Premier League title triumph.
Meikle, who started off his career with Burgh, will take his side across to East Lothian for what should be a packed Olivebank this Saturday in their last-eight clash, with a two-legged semi-final place awaiting the victor.
“Getting to the quarter-final doesn’t top winning a league title, but in terms of individual games this is the best individual result as a manager given the magnitude of what it is,” beamed Meikle as he reflected in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Arthurlie.
“The Scottish Cup is what junior football is all about. There was almost a desperation for the club to get into the Super League because we believe we have the set-up here to challenge in the Super League. I would take to the Scottish Cup over any league title, any day of the week. I’d even take the opportunity of getting into the final stages of the cup over winning a league.”
The Barrhead visitors pressed the self-destruct button in the second half as their in-discipline led to them finishing the tie with just eight men on the park, after referee Peter Stuart flashed three red cards after the interval.
Meikle believes Arthurlie’s frustration was down to his side winning their individual battles.
He said: “We showed why we are having a good season – the boys dug in and rolled their sleeves up and they do the ugly side of the game that a lot of players will cheat out of. I knew it would be an ugly game against a west team and it was two teams that were really just having a scrap.
“As is the case so many times this season, we’ve come out on top in a lot of the scraps and we did again on Saturday. They got frustrated with us getting the better of them and ended up getting numerous players sent off.”
Penicuik weren’t in control of the first period for long spells, however, as the visitors sought an early opener.
The impressive Kyle Rafferty caused Cuikie some early trouble after eight minutes with an incisive run across goal, evading several challenges before setting himself up for a shot on the edge of the box which keeper Youssef Bejaoui had to deal with.
Mark Blakey then came close for the Lie with a free-kick from 25 yards which whistled just wide with Penicuik down to ten men as striker Ryan McCallum received treatment for a cut above his right eye.
Ryan Gay and Scott McCulloch then traded chances as Penicuik battled back, before they got the opener on 33 minutes.
Gay’s corner was knocked onto the crossbar from Darrell Young’s header which flicked off a visiting defender, but captain Dougie Cunnison was first to react and he sent a header over the line. Arthurlie’s Kevin Green was yellow-carded for protesting against the goal being awarded – claiming home defender David White had got the final touch and was offside.
Green was then shown his second booking and a red from Stuart early in the second half after he tripped McCulloch midway inside Arthurlie’s half. From the free-kick, Cunnison had the ball in the net again for the hosts, but he was flagged offside.
Arthurlie boss Robert Downs brought on three substitutes in a bid to give his ten-men a lifeline, but within minutes their fate was sealed. Gay’s cross from the right sought out McCallum, but a mix-up involving keeper Michael White and defender Gavin Rushford saw the latter head into his own net.
Despite their man advantage, Penicuik sat deep and invited pressure onto themselves. Arthurlie substitute Daniel Burns pulled a goal back on 76 minutes to set up a nervy finale.
The visitors, who had looked down and out, almost salvaged a replay with two minutes remaining as Blakey’s set-piece strike crashed off the bar, before Cunnison cleared the rebound off the line, although the linesman had flagged for offside.
Ryan McGregor and Rushford were each sent off in the closing stages as Penicuik held on to secure their first quarter-final place since they finished runners-up to Blantyre Victoria in 1970.
Penicuik Athletic: Bejaoui, Cunnison, Ross, White, Young, Lister (McDermott), Killin (Burrell), McCulloch, McCallum, Gay, Janczyk.
Arthurlie: White, Green, McGlinchey, Rafferty (Burns), Rushford, Lyden, McCardle, McGregor, Smith (Stewart), McTernan (McPherson), Blakey.