Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale defender Paul Crawford is adamant the absence of several key players won’t derail his team as they bid to secure a dream William Hill Scottish Cup last-16 meeting with Celtic.
The East of Scotland champions travel to meet East Kilbride at K Park Training Complex tonight (7.45pm) in a rearranged fourth-round meeting knowing a money-spinning televised home tie with the Ladbrokes Premiership kingpins on February 7 awaits the winners. Lothian’s preparations for this evening’s high-stakes tie were dealt a major blow when experienced goalkeeper Kevin Swain suffered a broken arm during Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Heriot-Watt University.
But, although they will be missing the former Spartans stopper along with captain Grant Munro and midfielder Dean Cummings, Crawford insists his side have already built up enough momentum in the competition not to let the list of absentees affect them ahead of what will be their eighth game in this season’s tournament.
“It’s a game everyone has been looking forward to. There is excitement because we know what is at stake in light of the draw being made,” said the 26-year-old central defender.
“We’re a young side with so much ability throughout the team. Nobody was expecting to see Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale reach this stage and, as we have proved already in the Scottish Cup this season, anything can happen over ninety minutes.”
Crawford was sad to see Swain carried off the field at the weekend after just two minutes, although he revealed the goalkeeper – set to be replaced by assistant coach Fraser Ogilvie between the sticks tonight – may have jinxed himself through a chance conversation the pair had driving to Peffermill for Saturday’s game.
“Kevin was travelling in the car with me and we were all talking about trying to stay injury-free for tonight,” said Crawford.
“All of a sudden we heard Kevin say ‘I’m the unlucky one’ after he came worst off in a challenge.
“Lightning has struck twice, too, because he also missed Spartans’ game with Berwick in the cup last season.
“It’s a real shame for him because he’s such a key presence for us at the back. As a defender, I always have peace of mind when I know he’s behind me. I rate him as the best goalkeeper in the East of Scotland League.
“But it gives us extra inspiration to go out there and do it for him. We were written off against Kelty Hearts and Montrose but could easily have scored more goals against them and that was without key players too.
“We’ll have to be solid at the back and not give many chances away, but we’ve got the players to hurt them and we’ve always given Lowland League sides a solid test in my time at the club.”
Crawford has tried not to think too much about the prospect of a meeting with Ronny Deila’s Celtic but admits the disappointment for the losing team tonight will be all the greater should they exit the competition and miss the chance to take on Leigh Griffiths and Co next month.
“When the draw was made there was a lot of excitement, but Raymond (Carr, Lothian manager) has kept our feet firmly on the ground since and told us not to think about it.
“It’s been a remarkable adventure for us as a club. It’s given the players a big profile boost as well but whoever loses tonight will feel gutted because of what lies in wait.
“But the cup run has brought us all closer together as a team, and there’s quiet confidence. It would be tremendous if we did it and have the chance to play in front of the television cameras.”
Carr, meanwhile, has signed John Gilpin as goalkeeping cover for the remainder of the East of Scotland league season, although he is ineligible for the Scottish Cup.