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Cup Double

It’s been cup weekend for the Scottish non-league game, with ties in the Football Nations Qualifying Cup, Alex Jack Cup and of course the first round of the William Hill Scottish Cup. The action started under the lights on Friday with Lowland League Kelty Hearts facing West Region Superleague Auchinleck Talbot in front of the BBC cameras. It then continued in the Saturday afternoon sunshine at the Riverside in Perth, where EOSFL Premiership Jeanfield Swifts hosted Haddington Athletic from Conference A.

Kelty Hearts 0-3 Auchinleck Talbot

William Hill Scottish Cup

New Central Park, Kelty

Auchinleck cruised into the second-round draw with a comfortable win over Kelty in front of a full house at New Central Park. The tie had been switched to a Friday evening kick-off after being selected as the BBC live match, and the TV audience watched Tommy Sloan’s side take the driving seat with first-half goals from Craig McCracken and Keir Samson. Mark Shankland added a third after the break to put the final nail in the Kelty coffin.

Before kick-off, both sides lined up in the centre circle for a minute’s applause in memory of former Rangers captain Fernando Ricksen. When the game got underway, Talbot were fasted out of the traps, Shankland trying his luck from long range in the opening minute. His shot went harmlessly wide, but it was a sign of things to come, the visitors always seeming to carry a threat going forward.

Kelty by contrast were struggling to get into their rhythm in the opening period of the game. Talbot were happy to allow the hosts plenty of possession in the middle of the park but refused to be broken down in the final third. Sloan’s scouts had clearly done their homework identifying Nathan Austin as the key man in attack, the Talbot defence doubling up on Fash every time he took possession.

Despite edging the possession, Kelty lacked the cutting edge in attack and with Talbot able to counter at pace the game was finely balanced. The visitors took the lead after 20 minutes, Shankland swinging in his free kick from wide for McCracken to head home the opener. The Kelty defence has looked rock solid all season but were suddenly struggling with the ball into the box and the visitors were taking advantage.

Kelty huffed and puffed to try and find a foothold in the game, but Talbot were starting to take control. The Kelty wide men were finding plenty of room down the flanks, but Talbot were compact in the centre and cut out the crosses before they reached the danger zone. Cenerrazzo seemed Kelty’s best hope of getting back into it, his pace down the left the only thing that looked like troubling the visitor’s defence.

At the other end Shankland was terrorising the Kelty back four, his cross setting up Hyslop, who’s header hit the post with McKenzie beat. The second came on the stroke of half time after another mix up in the Kelty defence. Danny Ashe’s header back to the McKenzie was short and left the keeper in trouble. Wilson took full advantage, chipping the keeper to set up Samson at the back post to finish into the empty net.

2-nil at the break was a big ask for Kelty, who really needed an early goal to have any hope. The goal came early in the second half, but it went the way of the visitors, Gordon Pope’s free kick flicked on for Shankland who’s header looped over McKenzie into the far corner to kill the tie off.

Talbot have a Scottish Cup pedigree and were able to control the game from that point onwards, allowing Kelty as much possession as they wanted but snuffing out any danger before it had a chance to develop. The hosts enjoyed a brief spell of pressure as the game wore on – Austin, Philp and Cenerrazzo all having half chances, none of which really troubled Leishman in the Auchlinleck goal.

And that was probably the most disappointing aspect of the Kelty performance, at no point during the game did they ever look like they were on top. Barry Ferguson’s side that have been so comfortable in the Lowland League this season looked second best from start to finish, too many of the big players failing to show up on the night.

Auchinleck on the other hand are off and running on another Scottish Cup journey, hoping for a repeat of the adventure that last season took them to Tynecastle in the fifth round.

Click HERE for all the match photos.

Jeanfield Swifts 1-2 Haddingon Athletic

Football Nations Qualifying Cup

Riverside Stadium, Perth

Although the Football Nations Qualifying Cup might not have the history or prestige of the Scottish Cup, the entertainment on offer at the Riverside was every bit as good. Swifts took a first half lead through Scott Smith and had plenty of chances to extend their lead. Haddington hung on though, goalie Dale Cornet keeping them in contention before late strikes from Jordan Keenan and Ross Hutchinson turned the result in their favour.

Scotland in late September isn’t known for its t-shirt weather, but the game kicked-off in bright warm sunshine. Swifts were first to show, McLaren and Davies looking lively in the opening minutes. Sinclair almost set up the opener after some good playdown the left, but McLaren couldn’t get on the end of it and Cornet was able to gather.

The opener came on 20 minutes, Simpson’s corner flicked on at the front post where Smith was arriving. It looked like he had been fouled in the act of shooting, but he still managed to get enough on it to force it over the line to give Swifts the lead.

The hosts had just about done enough to justify the lead, but it was far from being one-way traffic and Athletic were giving as good as they got in a very even game. Auriemma was working hard up & down the left-hand side, while Hutchinson was buzzing around up top and keeping the home defence on its toes.

The first half was very watchable and fairly flew by, both sides creating chances and both keepers being called into action. Swifts probably deserved the half-time lead, the home side edging it in a very evenly matched cup tie.

It was more of the same after the interval, Swifts with the slimmest of advantages but Athletic giving a good account of themselves against opposition from the higher league. The longer the game went on, the more Swifts began to look like increasing their lead as the hosts seemed to find another gear. Disco Dale in the away goal was keeping his side in it though, denying McLaren, Davies and Simpson as the chances started to pile up.

Anybody who’s read the Big Book of Football Clichés will tell you that you need to take your chances when you’re ahead, and the more chances Swifts squandered, the more the precarious the single goal lead looked. The visitors finally made them pay on 72 minutes and there was nothing too sophisticated about the goal when it came – a long ball from the keeper that caught out the Swifts defence and Hutchinson reacting quickest to chip Mitchell for the equaliser.

The goal blew the game wide open again and the play was swinging from end to end once more. Both sides had chances to win it, but the equaliser had given Haddington a fresh shot of confidence and they enjoyed their best period of the game in the dying minutes. The winner came after a string of corners, Harris swinging it into the danger area for Kennan to head home. In amongst the celebrations, substitute Hamish Law was shown a red card, presumably for some verbals, leaving Athletic to hold on with ten men for the last 6 minutes.

Swifts almost sent the tie into extra time, slamming the crossbar with Cornet well beaten, but Athletic were able to see it out and get themselves into the draw for the next round.

See all the match photos HERE.

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