Bathgate Thistle 2 (Menmuir (77), McGrillen (80) - Cumnock Juniors 1 (Barr (44)
BATHGATE manager Willie Hill's 30-year quest for the junior's Holy Grail – the Citylink Scottish Junior Cup, finally bore fruit in an epic second-half fightback at Rugby Park yesterday.
Thistle, who suffered disappointment at the same venue in 2006 looked to again be heading home empty-handed as the match entered its final quarter of an hour, but, in that time, they conjured-up two goals to taste the sweetest of successes, and book their place in next season's Scottish Cup proper.
Victory was no less than Bathgate deserved, they had had the better of the possession in a poor first half, but went in at the break trailing to a superb 44th minute strike from Cumnock's Riche Barr, who took a knock-down from striking partner Michael Hughes, spun and volleyed home a terrific strike.
This was a big blow to Bathgate, who had made the better first half chances, with Paul McGrillen denied by the offside flag and Cumnock goalkeeper Graham Porter's leg in 23 minutes.
Steven Docherty had earlier spurned a good chance, while once or twice Bathgate stretched the Ayrshire side's defence, but couldn't find the killer touch.
Cumnock, Barr's goal apart, created just one chance in the first half; John McLay heading weakly over from a good position.
After the break the Ayrshire side succeeded in taking the sting out of the game for long spells, without looking likely to double their lead. Thistle, to be fair, went for it and veteran McGrillen had the ball in the net in 67 minutes, but had clearly fouled Cumnock defender Stuart MacDonald, in the build-up.
Six minutes later he was denied by Potter, but in 77 minutes the dam burst as centre half Stephen Menmuir rose above everyone to head home Scott Bannerman's free kick from the left.
With the match all-square, the tide had turned definitely in Bathgate's favour, as Cumnock failed to pick up their pace, Menmuir had been injured in scoring, to be replaced by Stewart Easton, but it didn't affect the West Lothian side, who made certain of victory seven minutes from time. Docherty and McGrillen played a neat one-two on the edge of the box, the penalty area opened up for former Falkirk man McGrillen, who slid his shot under Potter from 14 yards. The keeper managed to take the sting out of the shot, but, it trundled slowly over the line before being hooked away by the combined efforts of two desperately back-tracking Cumnock defenders who arrived just a fraction too late.
Cumnock were never going to pull this goal back, but the ecstatic Bathgate fans had to endure three minutes of added time, before they could finally celebrate the success which has cost manager and sponsor Hill so much time, energy and money as he has bankrolled the team he loves to final success in junior football's biggest competition of all.
"It's a lot better feeling than in 2006", said Hill.
"And over the 90 minutes I felt we deserved to win, we controlled the first half and even though they scored, I told the boys at half time, they had 45 minutes left to save it and I said, if we kept the ball on the deck, we'd win.
"I felt our two scorers were the best players on the park and that we deserved it. I've said all along, we have two targets, the Superleague and the Scottish, that's all they get bonuses for and I'm happy to pay them the bonus for this one."
Cumnock boss Campbell Money was naturally disappointed. He said: "We defended well all day, then didn't handle one high ball and they got level, their equaliser turned the game as they hadn't looked like scoring before then."
So in the end it was a good day for manager Hill and his men, although the day hadn't begun too well. Just as the teams came out the owner of a Porsche Cayenne was asked to go and move it from where it had been wrongly parked.
"It was my car, my wife had left it where she shouldn't have, but there was no way I was moving it then," laughed Hill. Who left the ground wondering if he had a car to go home to.
Bathgate Thistle: Carlin, Wilson, Menmuir (Easton 78), G Love, Neill F Love, Bannerman, McColligan (Nicolson 61), Harvey (McFadyen 58), Docherty, McGrillen. Subs not used: Haynes, Longmuir. Booked: Murray (90).
Cumnock Juniors: Potter, Campbell, Murray, MacDonald, McGowan; Cameron (Wilson 81), Farrell, Henderson (Desmond 53), McLay, Hughes, Barr. Subs not used: Heffron, Forde, Semple. Booked: Docherty (90).
Referee: B Colvin.