Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale’s dream of facing Celtic in a glamour William Hill Scottish Cup last-16 tie was dashed tonight after East Kilbride ran out 2-0 winners in their rearranged fourth-round clash.
Goals in either half from Jack Smith and Sean Winter, in front of watching Scotland boss Gordon Strachan, ensured a bumper payday for the Lowland League outfit. They’ll now face the Premiership champions – in a match set to be played at Hamilton’s New Douglas Park – on Sunday, February 7.
Lothian manager Raymond Carr felt the final scoreline was harsh on his team.
He said: “I thought 2-0 was harsh and it being two mistakes makes it worse. Listen, they scored two goals and deserved to go through. We had two really good chances and never took them, which would have out us in the front foot, but we never got that opportunity. It’s difficult to take for the players, but we’ll move on. We’ve got the league programme to catch up on so we’ll get back in to that. We had some really key players missing so we’ll get them back but the young boys who went in did really well.”
Lothian’s preparations for the biggest game in their history had been dealt a huge blow just four days previously, first-choice goalkeeper Kevin Swain suffering a broken forearm in the first minute of their weekend East of Scotland League fixture against Heriot-Watt University. It was another devastating hard luck story for Swain, who was ruled out of Spartans’ fifth-round tie with Berwick Rangers last season with an eye injury.
Former Preston Athletic stopper John Gilbertson was signed, but a request for emergency dispensation to be registered to play in tonight’s tie was rejected. The suggestion pre-match was that player/coach Fraser Ogilvie would be forced to don the gloves – something Ogilvie himself did little to play down on social media. However, Under-20s goalkeeper Byron Gibb recovered from illness to take his place between the sticks. Lothian were without Dean Cummings – younger brother of Hibs striker Jason – who was on holiday in Thailand.
Carr revealed: “Byron [Gibb] wasn’t going to make it, but we dragged him out his sick bed to come. He made a mistake at the end where he got caught but, apart from that, he didn’t have much to do. We defended well and he had no chance with the shot for the first.
“If you’d said at the start (of the competition) that we’d have a double-header against Girvan, going to Kelty Hearts and beating them 3-0, then a double header with Montrose and beating them in the replay and doing the same to Huntly, we would have bitten your hand off. We’ve never been this far before as a club, so it’s a learning curve as well. We don’t have the backing of the facilities that East Kilbride have, and I don’t think their players were any better than ours.”
EK almost began the game in spectacular fashion. Anthony Brady set off on a run, cutting in from the left and twisting his way past five challenges before being denied by a last-ditch block. The ball then fell to Martin McBride, but he could only fire well over. Craig Hastings was next to go close, outstripping the Lothian defence but he could only slide the ball past the far post with just Gibb to beat. Billy Ogilive’s side came even closer on seven minutes when McBride’s dipping corner had to be headed off the line by Scott Taylor-Mackenzie.
Lothian survived the early pressure and began to play themselves into the game. Willis Hare beat the offside trap but tried to square for strike partner Scott Gormley, but it was intercepted by EK keeper Matthew McGinley. Gormley had another opportunity soon after, but could only loop his header over the bar.
Hare and Gormley were combining well and the former was inches from opening the scoring on 28 minutes. Eddie Mearns’ through ball found Gormley, who skipped past McGinley before the ball ran to Hare, whose effort crashed back off the bar. The breakthrough did come five minutes before the break and was slightly against the run of play. Smith, whose father Andy played in two Scottish Cup finals for Airdrie, took advantage of a loose ball to volley over Gibb from 20 yards, sparking celebrations amongst the majority of the capacity K Park crowd.
It remained fairly even after the restart, with both sides having chances. Scott Gormley fired over on the stretch from Mearns’ pass, before Brady went on another mazy run for Kilby, the ball falling to Smith, who dragged his shot wide.
Lothian were committing more men forward and were inches from levelling when Hare’s low shot was tipped round the left-hand post by McGinley after neat interplay between Gormley and Smith had created the opening.
The hosts were threatening a second as much as Lothian were an equaliser and Winter drilled a shot right across goal with Gibb beaten.
Gormley then seized on poor control from EK sub Frazer Johnstone, but the striker’s touch forced him wide of goal and McGinley gathered his weak shot easily.
With four minutes left, the hosts ensured a home tie with Celtic. Brendan’s Coll’s corner from the right was spelled by Cobb, and Winter rammed the ball home through a sea of bodies.
East Kilbride: McGinley, Gebbie, Stevenson, Russell, Coll, Winter, McBride, Smith (Johnstone 25), Brady, Smith, Hastings (Gormley 79). Substitutes: Lachlan, Morris, Templeton, Macdonald, Kean.
Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: Gibb, Moore, Joint, Mearns, MacKenzie, Smith (Fox 74), Crawford, Kerr (Moffat 61), Hare (O’Donnell 77), Brown, Gormley. Substitutes: Shala, Mungall, Hendry, Ogilvie.
Referee: N Walsh.