Lothian Thistle show Lowland credentials in cup victory

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Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale coach Steven McKenzie reaffirmed his view that his side would be an asset to the Lowland League after Saturday’s 2-1 South Region Cup second-round victory over Preston Athletic.

First-half goals from James Guy and Kevin Brown – the latter’s coming from the penalty spot – saw the East of Scotland League outfit prevail over the Lowland’s bottom side at the Pennypit, Fabio Neto’s 68th-minute strike proving no more than a consolation for the weary-looking Panners.

In truth, this win merely strengthened the Saughton-based outfit’s assertion that they could more than hold their own in the higher division.

“There’s no difference at all really and I think we once again proved that,” McKenzie said. “But it’s all about opinions and I am confident with the squad we have we would do well in the Lowland League next year if given the chance. The club are working really hard behind the scenes to get things like a licence in place so that’s where we’re at the moment.

“Overall, I think we deserved to go through. It got a bit scrappy in the second half and, with us not taking our chances late on, it always gives them some hope. They chucked a lot of balls into our box but I thought we defended really well.

“The thing about this team is they never give up. We’re delighted to be in the next round. We’ve got the final of the Alex Jack Cup on Sunday against Tynecastle so that’s given us a big boost ahead of the game.”

Both teams were without their respective managers with Preston’s Craig Nisbet and Lothian’s Raymond Carr both on holiday.

The visitors made their intentions clear from the first whistle and, after an in-swinging cross from Scott Taylor-MacKenzie had caused panic in the home rearguard, Jamie Devlin should have at least hit the target.

However, Lothian did grab the initiative in the 18th minute. Guy was afforded space to bear down on Craig Pennycuick’s goal and, despite having options either side of him, the striker chose to try his luck from 25 yards which saw his looping effort swerve away from the Preston No.1 and into the far corner.

Anthony Muir stung the palms of Pennycuick just seconds later before Neto used his pace to stretch the Lothian defence but could only drag his effort wide of the target. Devlin again called Pennycuick into action but the keeper was left rooted to the spot as Brown converted from 12 yards right on the stroke of half-time after Neto had foolishly pushed over Devlin in the area.

The hosts had far more purpose about their play in the second half and gave themselves a glimmer of hope with 20 minutes remaining when Neto knocked home a loose ball after Kevin Swain had parried substitute Jack Jardine’s first-time effort. Both Muir and Willis Hare had chances to put the tie to bed late on but brought out the best in Pennycuick.

“We brought players in who hadn’t had a lot of game time recently and that showed the first 20 minutes or so,” Preston coach Kevin Douglas said of his side’s defeat. “I thought we finished the stronger side in the first half but gave away another needless penalty kick. If you are 2-0 down at half-time then it’s very difficult to get back into a cup tie. We’ll get the boys back in this week and get them prepared for Saturday’s Scottish Cup match with Montrose.”

Preston Athletic: Pennycuick, Cowan, Cochrane, Siegel, McLeod, Innes (Lawson 69), Law, Erskine Jardine 62), Nelo, Stevenson, Graham. Subs: Baines, Callan, Cochrane, Henderson, Park.

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: Swain, Wishart, Taylor-Mackenzie, Wilkes, Munro, Muir, Moore (Hare 46), Brown, Devlin, Guy (Mungall 76), O’Donnell. Sub: Shala.