BRAVE Sauchie Juniors’ Scottish Cup dream came to an end despite a battling performance against overwhelming favourites Glenafton Athletic.
Chris Dallas’ first-half strike was enough to put the Ayrshire side through to the last four of the tournament despite an industrious display from Sauchie.
The Wee County side had a stonewall penalty turned down, and lost midfielder Andy Shirra to a hotly-disputed late red card.
The hosts, as expected, started on top and they had the first real opening of the game. The ball broke to Mick McCann on the edge of the box and he produced a wonderful shot which rattled the top of Sauchie’s crossbar on its way over.
However, Sauchie had their chances too, and Oliver Fleming perhaps should have done better with a free header from a corner, the young defender directing his effort just wide.
But Fleming made amends with a terrific block from Dallas’ shot, before David Gray’s fizzing free kick had Greig Maitland worried, only for the ball to fly a couple of inches the wrong side of the post.
However, the home side would get their goal shortly afterwards. Ryan Borris picked up the ball on the right and beat Gary McCulloch before firing in a low cross, which took a nick past Maitland and fell at the feet of Dallas. The forward made no mistake as he lashed the ball into the bottom corner to give his side the advantage.
Dallas could have added a second moments later but dragged his shot wide from a good position, before one of the game’s main talking points arrived at the other end.
The ball came to Darren Cummings who had his back to goal. and as he looked for space, goalkeeper Brian McGarrity bundled into him, sending the Sauchie man sprawling. It was a clear foul which would have given the visitors a golden chance to get back in the game, but the referee inexplicably waved play on.
Glenafton continued to pile pressure on the Sauchie goal and McCulloch had to be alert to keep Dallas out, the stand-in left-back making a fantastic block.
Just before the break, Cummings’ speculative free kick had McGarrity scrambling, but the striker saw his effort sail just over the crossbar.
Sauchie had the first clear chance of the second half, Josh Flood stinging McGarrity’s palms with a powerful drive from just outside the box following tidy play involving Ryan Millar and Ant McTaggart.
Glenafton began to take control of the game and Dallas had two free headers in the space of a minute, somehow contriving to miss the target both times.
From that point onwards it was one-way traffic, and Maitland made an outstanding save to deny Joe Andrew as the hosts went in search of a killer second goal.
The goalkeeper was putting in a sterling shift between the sticks, and he made two more magnificent saves in quick succession, first keeping out Borris’ effort before he foiled Ally Park.
The big keeper was in fine form and made another terrific save to keep John Carter at bay when one-on-one with the striker.
A rare chance came Sauchie’s way with ten minutes remaining, but it was again squandered. A brilliant counter-attack saw Collin Samuel, making his second debut for the club, with an opportunity to level the scores, but his shot from 12 yards out screwed agonisingly wide of the post.
And there was another controversial moment with just a few minutes remaining. Having just been booked for what seemed to be a fair challenge, Andy Shirra again won the ball with a tackle out on the right flank, only for the referee to blow for a foul and send the veteran midfielder from the field of play.
It was harsh in the extreme and killed off Sauchie’s remaining hopes of finding a leveller. Maitland had the final say with yet another fine save, this time denying Cameron Marlow.
It was not to be for Sauchie, but manager Fraser Duncan can be proud of his players’ efforts throughout their cup run as their attentions now turn to finishing their league campaign with promotion back to the Super League at the first attempt.
Sauchie Juniors: Maitland, McFarlane, McCulloch, Dolan, Fleming, McTaggart, Millar (Samuel), Shirra, Cummings, Morrison, Flood (Morgan). Not used: Sharp, Shields, Hutchison.