TO describe Albion Rovers’ relationship with Motherwell as a rivalry is surely something of an exaggeration.
Albion Rovers 1-0 Motherwell
Scorer: Albion Rovers - Phillips (90)
Certainly, the two football clubs have plied their trade in neighbouring Lanarkshire towns for 127 years but rarely have their paths crossed and never has there been anything approaching a sense of equality.
Rovers, who represent Scottish football’s lower orders, have an honours list that boasts a mere two second division championship titles.
Motherwell, aristocrats by comparison, have won most of the country’s major honours and have even made several sorties into Europe. In short, the pair exist on different sporting stratospheres. Yet, on Saturday the no-hopers from Coatbridge demonstrated the Scottish Cup’s capacity to thrill, surprise and delight as a last-minute shot from Gary Phillips gave them their first competitive win against Motherwell in 34 attempts and a place in today’s fifth round draw.
Recent fire damage at Cliftonhill meant Rovers had conceded the potential advantage of playing at home but they adapted just as well as their opponents to the artificial surface at Hamilton’s New Douglas Park.
Indeed, Neil Parry, the Rovers goalkeeper, was able to reflect on a surprisingly comfortable afternoon. This Inland Revenue employee had surely expected a more taxing time from the side currently sitting third in the Premiership.
Instead, he was able to reflect: “I didn’t make as many saves as probably most people would have expected. There were a lot of cross balls put into the box and we defended very well and I made saves when the time came.
“We thought this pitch would suit Motherwell as they could get it down and play football but the result was down to the way the gaffer had us organised. We defended when we needed to in the first half – and it maybe wasn’t too pretty – but we got our chance in the second half and we took it.
“At times in the second half we played really well and we passed the ball well and got forward. We rode our luck a bit but we’re delighted. It’s an unbelievable result – the dressing room is a very happy place at the moment. The chairman gave us a good incentive to win the match, though I wouldn’t like to say the figure, but this is a game that will live with us forever.
“We’re all part-time players and the money’s incidental – it’s good to get but this is a memory to treasure.”
In a game of few genuine chances, Rovers hinted at what might follow when Liam Cusack forced a smart save from Gunnar Nielson.
However, the Premiership side responded and an effort from Bob McHugh went narrowly over. Such efforts gave temporary solace to an increasingly anxious and fractious Motherwell support, who could sense that things were not going to plan, especially when Parry produced his one save of note with a fine block from substitute John Sutton’s header.
It seemed to galvanise the underdogs, who suddenly realised that their current status as the second worst team in Scottish senior football need not blunt their giant-killing aspirations.
And their big moment came five minutes from time when Phillips latched on to a loose ball and sent a low shot beyond the despairing dive of Nielson.
“After we scored, the referee said it was only five minutes to go but it felt like 45 and we were camped on the edge of our box,” said Parry.
“But we got there and we will enjoy this tonight before looking forward to an important league game with East Stirling. Hopefully, this result will give us the lift we need in the league.”
James Ward, a thrilled home manager, said: “I feel so proud and I think based on work-rate we deserved it. Motherwell never hurt us despite their possession.”
Fir Park manager Stuart McCall admitted he was embarrassed by his side’s defeat. He said: “It wasn’t down to a lack of preparation. We had Albion watched four times and every profile of every player was up on the wall before the game.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t think we approached the game in a casual or negative way, or thought it was going to be easy. I just think the basic quality of our passing and crossing was probably the worst since I came to the club.
“The quality was dreadfully lacking. Being on the end of a shock result like this is a horrendous feeling.”
Referee: E Anderson