Leith Athletic joint-manager Steve Chalmers says it was the hunger of his players that saw them through to the South Region Challenge Cup quarter-finals after a 3-2 victory over Edinburgh University – the first time in their history they have made the last eight of this competition.
In truth, the East of Scotland League outfit were streets ahead of their higher league opponents, particularly in the first half, the students fortunate only to be 2-1 down at the interval.
Callum Mein’s well-placed shot had the hosts in front as early as the ninth minute at a bitterly cold Meadowbank before the visitors, against the run of play, equalised through Nathan Evans.
But the impressive Brodie Mackenzie’s glancing header restored Leith’s lead 120 seconds later as the home side continued to dominate proceedings. In contrast, Dorian Ogunro’s men were wasteful in possession and looked a yard off the pace, Evans squandering the opportunity to level the tie once again as he blazed his spot-kick off the crossbar and over following a foul on Jack Guthrie.
Liam Ritchie increased his side’s lead seven minutes after the restart, beating goalkeeper Conor Barnes with a powerful shot. And, although the Lowland League club applied some late pressure as Santeri Kuivalainen’s low-driven effort made it 3-2, it was Chalmers and Leighton Jones jumping for joy at full time.
“We were kind of under the cosh the last 15 minutes but we knew they would go right to the 90 minutes having had them watched. Our guys were excellent in the first half so I was really happy with the performance,” an elated Chalmers said.
“It’s the players that are the ones with the hunger and they want to do well every week. We want to prove folk wrong. It’s just a matter of putting performances out on the pitch and I thought overall we deserved to win.
“We want to play the best teams out there and give ourselves a test. It’s pleasing we’re through to the quarter-finals of the cup, it’s not one of the things we set out to do at the start of the season but we’ll take it.”
Mackenzie, 18, was a constant menace for the Uni defence all afternoon and, having set up team-mate Mein for the opener, the striker was denied a goal of his own despite finding the net just two minutes later, although the decision to penalise the teenager for a foul was contentious to say the least.
Evans and Kuivalainen’s goals did nothing to appease seething Uni boss Ogunro who kept his players locked in the dressing room for 45 minutes after the final whistle.
Ogunro was that incensed by his side’s lacklustre display that he sent out assistant coach Tom Archer to give their take on the defeat.
“We’re very frustrated with the performance, particularly in the first half. Leith were miles better than us and deserved their lead at the break and were worthy winners on the day. We’ll watch the game back and assess what was missing but we can’t begrudge them the win,” Archer explained.
“Last weekend we were brilliant [against Edusport Academy], really good on the press and the passing was excellent. But, for whatever reason it just wasn’t there today.
“We’ve got a relatively small squad as it is so it’s not really an option to make wholesale changes. We trust the players, we are with them four days a week so we need to regroup.
“The players are gutted in there because that was a great opportunity to get to a quarter final. Apart from the Scottish it’s the biggest cup competition we play in so it’s hugely frustrating.”
Leith Athletic: Fairnie, Pennel, Ritchie, Smith, Beaton, Hay (Currie 78), Mein, Redpath, Simpson, Tait, Mackenzie (Larner 86). Subs: Anderson.
Edinburgh University: Barnes, Gair (Murray 46), Condie, Swan, Sutherland, Daniels-Yeoman, McNicholas, Kuivalainen, Guthrie, Evans, Hendry (Maskrey 46). Subs: Boyle.