10 Man Rose Clinch The Title
Broxburn Athletic 2-3 Bonnyrigg Rose
East Of Scotland Play-off 3rd Leg
Albyn Park, Broxburn
Bonnyrigg Rose staged an amazing second half comeback to be crowned East Of Scotland Champions in a thrilling play-off 3rd leg at Albyn Park.
On a day when the destination of the title swung back and forth between all three contenders, it was Robbie Horn’s side that showed the grit and determination to come out on top and earn promotion to the Lowland League.
Rose did it the hard way through: down to 10 men and 2-nil behind, it looked all over for the Conference B winners at half-time, before a second half fight back topped off with a 94th minute winner.
The final play-off leg was perfectly poised, with all three contenders - Bonnyrigg, Broxburn and Penicuik - all in with a chance to be crowned champions. With Penicuik having played both their games and having sweat it out from afar, Rose only needed a draw to be champions. A 1-0 or 2-1 win for Broxburn would hand that title to Penicuik, while a win by any other score would be good enough for Broxburn.
Rose started quickest, testing Connor Wallace in the ‘Burn goal within seconds of the kick-off as the visitors went straight for the throat. Broxburn couldn’t get into their stride and for a few moments it looked like Rose might steamroller their way to the title. Although it was all Bonnyrigg in the first quarter, they couldn’t make the pressure count and the game was a bit of a slow burner.
It took almost 20 minutes for Athletic to register a shot on target, Ryan Young having to dive to his left to touch Conor Kelly’s shot round the far post. That effort seemed to build some confidence for Broxburn and the hosts gradually began to steady the ship. With so much at stake, it was a bit of a nervous affair and the game was crying out for something to kick it into life.
The spark came in the 29th minute when Young came flying off his line to collect a long through ball into the box. The keeper took it cleanly but his momentum carried him out of his area and from behind the goal it looked like he was still holding the ball as he stepped into the D. Referee Craig Wilson seemed to agree, and showed Young a straight red for handball outside of his box, kicking off a couple of minutes of chaos. Lough was sacrificed for substitute keeper Michael Andrews while the protests continued on the park and in the dugout. When the dust had settled Athletic took the resulting free-kick, which Andrews blocked, but the defence failed to clear their lines and the ball broke back to Donaldson, who slammed home through a scrum of bodies to give Broxburn the lead.
1-nil suited Penicuik, who would win the title if the match finished with that scoreline, so Broxburn had to push on in search of a second. It took them just six minutes to find it, Ross Nimmo with a speculative long range effort that crept into the bottom corner to hand the championship advantage to Broxburn.
Having dominated the opening half hour, Bonnyrigg were suddenly rocking. Dean Hoskins, normally the picture of composure in the heart of defence, looked shaky dealing with high balls into the box. With Kelly and Miller buzzing around in behind him, ‘Burn seemed like they might kill it off before the interval but Rose held on, glad to hear the whistle and a chance to re-group.
The question on everybody’s lips at halftime was would Athletic stick or twist? The answer came quickly, Athletic picking up where they left off, attacking the visitors and looking for a killer third. Rose needed to make a change it took just 10 minutes for Horn to make up his mind, Martynuik and Gray making way for Murrell and McGachie.
The switch had an immediate impact for Rose, the big man giving them a much more physical presence up top and with Murrell’s ability to hold the ball up, Athletic now had something else to deal with. ‘Burn had the extra man advantage though, and were still winning the midfield battle, but their attack seemed to be lacking the bite they needed to put the game to bed.
Although Broxburn still held the advantage, the game and the title were on a knife edge and the tension was starting to show in the away dug-out. The Rose management team are well known for their vocal contribution and when ref Wilson had to speak to them for a second time, he end ending up giving gaffer Robbie Horn his marching orders.
It’s often said that the mark of champions is how they react when they are up against it, and with 20 minutes to go Rose showed exactly what they are made off, Hoskins jumping highest to nod the ball over the keeper into the top corner and give his side a lifeline.
At 2-1, the title pendulum had swung back to Penicuik, but all the momentum in the game was suddenly back with Bonnyrigg. With the clock ticking down and the finger nails being bitten all round Albyn Park (and also 23 miles away at Penicuik Park), substitute Aaron Murrell found an inch of space in a crowded box to fire home the equaliser and wrestle back the crown for Bonnyrigg with just 7 minutes left on the watch.
All eyes were once again on the referee - the away fans howling him to blow for time and the home fans hoping he’d give them long enough for one last chance. Athletic thought they’d pinched it just a minute later, but Locke’s shot from wide left slid just past the post and Rose could breathe again.
Broxburn’s final bite at the cherry came deep into injury time when they won a free-kick on the edge of the box. As is the norm in these situations, keeper Wallace went up for the set-piece in a last roll of the dice, but despite having two extra bodies in the box, Athletic couldn’t make it count. The drama wasn’t over yet though and with the keeper stranded in the wrong box Rose were able to break, suddenly finding themselves 2 v 1, leaving Lewis Turner to roll the winner into an empty net and spark a mass celebration in the middle of the pitch.
The ref managed to clear the park long enough to blow for time, before the celebrations started up again. With so many swings in the title race, the trophy delivery man must have been dizzy having done multiple u-turns along the city bypass. However it probably bought them enough time to clear the park once again before handing out the medals and presenting the East Of Scotland trophy.
What happens next is still a bit of a guessing game though. There should be a play-off against the South Of Scotland League Champions, but that league was won by Stranraer Reserves who are not eligible for promotion. It should then mean that Bonnyrigg are automatically promoted to the Lowland League but that’s subject to the SFA granting them the relevant licence and you might be shocked to learn that the governing body are taking their sweet time in sorting that out...
One thing that is certain though is that Bonnyrigg are champions and, on the strength of the season, deservedly so. The closeness of the three-legged play-off shows that there isn’t much between the three Conference winners in terms of quality. But the spirit and determination to win was what saw Rose through in the end.
Congratulations to East Of Scotland League Champions 2018-19: Bonnyrigg Rose.
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