Four goals, two sending offs, extra-time and penalties – the Image Printers East of Scotland Qualifying Cup final between Whitehill Welfare and Spartans had everything the 400 spectators could have hoped for at St Mark’s Park.
It wasn’t a great spectacle by any means, but Bryan Young’s save from Spartans’ Gary Cennerazzo’s spot-kick ensured it was the Rosewell club celebrating a 5-4 victory on penalties after the sides were locked together 2-2 after 120 minutes in yesterday afternoon’s epic.
However Spartans, who played out the final eight minutes with just nine men after Alan Brown was dismissed for a second booking after celebrating substitute Sean Muhsin’s goal had edged them ahead 2-1, will feel the trophy was snatched from their grasp.
Whitehill manager Mickey Lawson sprung a surprise in his starting XI by deploying a three-man attack, with Wayne McIntosh, Aaron Somerville and Danny Noon all leading the line up top and it was the latter who struck the opening goal on 23 minutes when he headed in from close range following McIntosh’s cross from the left.
Spartans playmaker Mark Whatley restored parity a minute before the interval when his well-driven effort from 20 yards sailed into the bottom corner after Danny O’Donnell’s initial effort had come back off the underside of the bar.
In the 49th minute, Spartans suffered a huge blow when their top-scorer Keith McLeod was shown a straight red card for a tussle in the area with defender John Hall leaving a depleted Ainslie Park side with a mammoth task.
To their credit, the players in red-and-white showed great resilience and remained a threat going forward with Jack Beesley, in particular, causing the Whitehill rearguard problems.
Noon thought he had doubled his own and Whitehill’s advantage when he knocked in after Somerville’s half-volley had cannoned back off the post, but the assistant referee on the far side had raised his flag for offside.
With goalscoring opportunities few and far between, there was little surprise to see an additional 30 minutes played.
Penalties then seemed the most likely conclusion until Muhsin, who had only been on the pitch for 20 minutes, intervened with a strike that looked to have clinched the cup.
The strike sparked sheer ecstasy on the sidelines, which the referee Peter Stuart did not take too kindly to as he flashed a second yellow in the direction of Brown.
Mike Bruce then missed a glaring opportunity to level things up immediately after before the captain atoned for his error by heading the ball beyond Scott Bennett after a teasing cross from Wayne Sproule in the final minute.
With Sproule then converting his spot-kick to give Whitehill a 5-4 advantage and having reached sudden death, Cennerazzo suffered the heartache of seeing his effort stopped by Young.
A jubilant Lawson said: “I would never say I am a good manager, but I am a lucky manager and we got the breaks today.
“They (Spartans) take all the plaudits from the game for playing with nine men and were probably the better team. We huffed and puffed and kept our patience, but we got there.
“When we look back at the end of the season, that’s a cup we’ve won so we’re delighted.”
Spartans manager Dougie Samuel, however, was less than amused with some of the decisions that went against his players, but was complimentary of his team’s efforts.
“I do feel all the big decisions in the game went against us and I think it is extremely harsh when a player gets sent off in a cup final for celebrating his team going ahead,” he said.
“I think the most pleasing thing is we have smashed the myth that we cannot play on grass and we can’t compete physically.
“We’ve shown everybody just how good a side we are and the only emotion I have is a sense of pride.”
Whitehill Welfare: Young, Hall (Sproule 69), Thom, Bruce, W Kidd, McGlashan, Dodds (McLaughlin 91), A Kidd, McIntosh, Somerville (Martin 106), Noon. Subs: Quinn, Cantley.
Spartans: Bennett, Grant, Cennerazzo, Sivewright, O’Donnell, Motion (Muhsin 91), Beesley (Henretty 111), Whatley, Bremner (Anderson 111), McLeod, Brown. Subs: Main, Gilpin.
Referee: Peter Stuart