Edinburgh City boss Gary Jardine couldn’t have been prouder of his players after their agonising 4-2 penalty loss to Brora Rangers in Saturday’s pyramid play-off second leg at Dudgeon Park.
Ross Allum’s 23rd goal of the season gave City an early lead before Scott Graham’s scrambled second-half equaliser. The visitors dug deep to take the game to spot kicks after Chris McKee’s highly contentious sending off at the end of normal time, but the Highland League Champions held their nerve in a tense shootout to proceed to this week’s promotion showdown with Montrose.
Jardine couldn’t fault his players after running their unbeaten opponents so very close. “It’s gut wrenching” he said. “We have aspirations to play at a higher level and it really is a dream. Nobody gives my boys a chance and with the background they come from, they have to earn everything they get in life. Rather than being proud of them as players, I’m proud of them as people. They were wonderful to each other today, the effort they gave, and that’s football.
Jardine also strongly disagreed with the decision to show McKee either of his yellows. “The first one wasn’t a yellow – it’s not even a foul. The second one I’m a bit far away and I don’t know if he’s stepped across him but I don’t think it’s changed the game.”
City’s start was in stark contrast to the first leg, taking the lead in the fourth minute. Allum latched on the Jordan Caddow’s searching ball over the top and took a touch before poking the ball past Joe Malin and in off the right-hand post. They almost doubled their advantage before ten minutes had elapsed, Dougie Gair racing onto Nico Gibson’s quick throw but sending his left-foot effort narrowly wide.
Brora took a while to wake up, Andrew Greig jinking inside but sending his shot well wide of Andrew Stobie’s goal on 18 minutes. Gair then had another great chance to make it two from another ball over the top, but his lob lacked the height to clear Malin and the keeper claimed it with both hands. The visitors were taking the game to Davie Kirkwood’s men, Aaron James next to try his luck with a 20-yarder that whistled wide.
Steven Mackay spurned the chance to equalise on the half-hour mark after Ally MacDonald picked him out in the area, but Rangers’ top scorer fluffed his shot and sent the ball trundling wide.
Allum was close to notching his and City’s second on the stroke of half-time, turning inside MacDonald and putting him on his backside before seeing his low attempt parried by Malin.
Brora were on the front foot after the interval, MacDonald sending an ambitious effort wide from distance. They were level just after the hour in fortuitous circumstances. A lack of communication between Joe Mbu and Stobie resulted in the defender’s backwards header going over his goalkeeper allowing Scott Graham to bundle the ball into the empty net.
Stobie had to react to another Mbu backwards header with seven minutes remaining, getting down well to push it round the post after Malin’s long free-kick. Martin Maclean spurned a good opportunity to win for Brora with two minutes left but he blazed Andrew Greig’s cut back high over the bar.
City were forced to try and negotiate extra-time with ten men after Chris McKee received a soft second yellow for obstruction in stoppage time. Allum had the first sight of goal of the extra 30, but his volley was blocked before Malin had to make a save. MacDonald went close for Brora with ten to go, sending a cross-cum-shot just wide of Stobie’s far post.
Penalties inevitably arrived and it was heartache for City, Harrison and Mbu failing to convert enabling Kettlewell to fire Brora into the play-off final with Montrose.
Brora manager Davie Kirkwood conceded his team were second best in the first 45 and felt both sets of players deserved better than to have such a contest decided by spot kicks. “I hate penalty kicks,” he admitted. “I don’t think it’s a fair way to finish a game. The two clubs have put so much effort into the two games and for it to be decided by penalty kicks, it’s not worth it my book. It’s never easy and the first half we can discount because we’re never at the races. The second half I felt there was only one team trying to win the game. Second half, Edinburgh tried to keep it tight and hit us on the counter but you could say it was always heading to penalty kicks.
“We practice them every week and have the quality to decide games in penalty kick competitions. We did one on Wednesday – just out the blue we said ‘we’ll do it’. It was just one of those ones where we practiced and the boys are confident. After we got knocked out the League Cup against Cove, the players have worked hard on them because it’s crucial on the game.”
Brora Rangers: Malin, Houston, A MacDonald, McKeown, Kettlewell, Morrison, Maclean, Graham, Maclean (Richardson 56), Mackay, Greig.
Edinburgh City: Stobie, Harrison, Gibson (J MacDonald 81), James, McKee, Mbu, McFarland, Gair (McConnell 65), Allum (Deniran 108), Dunn, Caddow.