Penicuik Athletic boss Johnny Harvey believes his side still have a lot to play for this season after their Scottish Junior Cup dreams were dashed in a last-16 blockbuster, losing 4-3 to Kirkintilloch Rob Roy.
Quite how they had scored three goals and not progressed to the quarter-final stage will be agonised over in the Penicuik dressing-room for weeks.
However, rather than let it affect the rest of their season, manager Harvey says his players have to put disappointment behind them and has challenged them to bounce back by continuing to hold their own at the top end of the table, while remaining in the hunt for silverware.
“It’s infuriating to be honest that we’ve scored three goals and aren’t going through,” said Harvey. “At times we didn’t defend great but I thought the boys put so much into the game and we deserved at least a draw.
“I just want to praise my players, I thought they were magnificent. They put everything into the game and they deserved far more out of it.
“We can’t let this affect the rest of our season. It’s important that we go on and we finish as high up in the league and we try and go as far as we can in the other two cups we are left in. The boys have been excellent this season and I just don’t think we deserved to go out the cup in the manner that we did, but it’s how you bounce back from setbacks like this.
“We’ve got to show we are a team that aren’t affected by bad results and to be honest I’ve no doubts that we’ll bounce back in a positive way.”
Harvey refused to lay any blame for his side’s cup exit on referee Stephen Brown who awarded the visitors a controversial first-half penalty and sent-off home defender Darrell Young in the second half. Brown’s decision-making was a constant source of consternation for the Cuikie support.
Harvey continued: “I think the penalty they got was soft, but I don’t want to talk about referees. That just tells you the level of the game that we were playing, yet everyone wants to talk about the ref.
“We were still kind of on top in the game after the red card, it didn’t really affect us. We were excellent when we went down to ten men and I thought we looked like the team with 11 men on the park.”
With many expecting a tight, East v West battle with more brawn than goalmouth action, the 500-strong crowd packed into Penicuik Park were given their money’s worth with four goals inside the opening 14 minutes.
The hosts went ahead on six minutes with a move straight off the training ground. Neil Janczyk’s low corner played to the edge of the box found striker Ryan McCallum and his curling chip nestled high in the roof of the net above goalkeeper Jordan Brown.
Rob Roy hit back three minutes later when Lee Gallacher pounced on Young’s headed clearance to drill past Billy Bald.
Just a minute later and Penicuik were back in front, as McCallum did well to work in a cross from the right which Keith Lough took down on his chest and sent a stunning volley high past Brown.
But Rob Roy brought the tie level once again after Ross Montgomery was adjudged to have brought down Willie Sawyers and Kevin Green tucked away the spot kick.
The Cuikie defence didn’t cover themselves in glory as the visitors went ahead for the first time on 51 minutes. Penicuik had numerous opportunities to clear before Gary McMenamin punished them with a finely placed finish into the bottom corner.
To make matters worse, Young then saw red with half an hour remaining, as he picked up a second booking when he caught Sawyers late.
But, unperturbed by going a man down, the home side hauled themselves level on 65 minutes. Substitute midfielder Ryan Gay, who recently submitted a transfer request due to a lack of game time, fired home into an empty net after Lewis Barr fed him, with Brown having rushed off his line.
Rob Roy’s ability to hit back instantly struck again, however, as Scott Walker’s low effort restored their lead just two minutes later.
Gay was the driving force as Penicuik sought an equaliser to earn a replay but their hunt proved elusive.
Penicuik Athletic: Bald, Forbes, MacDonald (S Scott), Hume, Young, Janczyk, Connolly (Gay), Barr, Lough (K Scott), McCallum, Montgomery.
Kirkintilloch Rob Roy: Brown, Walker, MacKenzie, Green, Buchanan, Whelan, Gallacher (Pearson), McMenamin, Sawyers, Fraser (Watt), Duff (Mackie).