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Stirling Need Extra-Time To See Off Swifts

Jeanfield Swifts 3 - 4 Stirling University (aet)

South Region Challenge Cup 4th Round

Riverside Stadium, Perth

Jeanfield missed out on a place in the draw for the next round of the cup in an end-to-end tie at the Riverside Stadium. Both sides had led the game, which finished 3 each, before University sneaked through thanks to a Lewis Bonar winner deep in extra-time.

The drama started before the game had even kicked off, when Swifts keeper Michael Patton picked up an injury in the warm-up and had to be replaced by teenager Sam Townsley. The youngster was the only cover available, and found himself pulling on the gloves just days after his sixteenth birthday.

Although the bookies made Lowland League Stirling favourites, Swifts have been in decent form of late and that looked like continuing when Dodd carved out the first real chance with only five minutes on the watch. But the university guys obviously had different ideas when they took the lead five minutes later, midfielder Eachainn Miller on hand to scramble a deep corner past the rookie keeper.

The first half was a bit of a midfield scrap, with both sides cancelling each other out and not a lot in the way of goalmouth action. Stirling were containing things in the middle of the park and looked dangerous on the break, while Swifts best chance looked like coming from the wings, Dodd and McLaren carrying the biggest threat. The longer the game went on, the more Swifts began to come into things and nearly sprung the Uni off-side trap on a couple of occasions.

Just as it began to look like Uni would protect their lead until the break, Connor McLaren turned the game on it's head with a quick-fire double. First he latched on to a ball flicked inside the full-back and kept his composure to go round the keeper and slot home from the tightest of angles. Then two minutes later he cut in from the wing, beat the defender and slid a left foot finish beyond John Allan in the Stirling goal to leave the visitors wondering what had gone wrong.

Jeanfield were suddenly full of confidence, and didn't want half-time to come, looking capable of scoring with every move. Stirling were forced into a change late in the half, Burrows going off to be replaced by Slattery and it stayed 2-1 at the interval.

The visitors made another change early in the second half, Bonar replacing Miller and were going with three at the back as they pushed forward looking for the equaliser. Swifts should have extended their lead on the hour, after McLaren beat the off-side and sprinted into the box, but the hat-trick was obviously in his mind and he wasted the opportunity, shooting high over the bar with two teammates better placed.

Jeanfield were forced to pay the price just a couple of minutes later when Josh Emmot pounced onto a slack clearance and lashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner to make it 2-2. That strike turned the tide once again, and it was suddenly all Stirling. Slack defending cost Swifts again as the visitors went back in front in the 70th minute. The home side failing to clear a corner, and when the cross came back into the box, Angus Mailer outjumped a static defence to head past Townsley.

With the clock ticking, Jeanfield made a double substitution, Dewar and Holden coming on for Mackie and Donovan, as they went about dragging themselves back into the game. Stirling were winning all the 50/50 balls, and had a penalty shout turned down with ten minutes to go. Webb got a silly yellow card for handball as the visitors tried to run the clock down, but Swifts weren't finished and McLaren finally grabbed his hat-trick slamming home at the back post with 3 minutes left.

In the dying seconds, Stirling had two great chances to win the tie, hitting the woodwork with the first before 16 year old Townsley pulled out a stunning save in the last minute to take it to extra time.

So often after an end-to-end cup tie, the extra half-hour is an anti-climax with both sides more interested in making sure they don't throw it away. But the extra 30 minutes was just as exciting at the regulation 90 had been and both teams had decent chances to win it. Teenager Townsley was a hero yet again for Swifts, bravely diving at the feet of Ferris to keep his side in the tie, bt his luck finally run out with three minutes to go. the home defence once again failing to deal with the near post corner and although Townsley got a hand to it, he couldn't keep out Bonar's flicked header.

So Stirling advance to the next round, and although there were loads of positives for Jeanfield, it looks like they'll be working on defending set-pieces in training this week. It's back to league business next week for Jeanfield in the Swifts derby, as Hillfield make the trip up the M90 to Perth in Conference C, while Stirling host Lowland League leaders Kelty Hearts at Forthbank Stadium.

KayemPhoto Man of the Match: There were plenty of contenders on both sides, Aidan Ferris in particular putting in a real shift for the visitors. Teen keeper Sam Townsely deserves a special mention and he wasn't really at fault for any of the goals. But the award has to go to Swifts winger Connor McLaren, who was a constant threat all afternoon. It's not often he'll score a hat-trick and end up on the losing side.

See the full photo gallery on Flickr HERE

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