AH, the old magic. It never leaves you. Jim Duffy and Chic Charnley long ago ceased to lend their old-fashioned swagger to the competitive fray, but on the evidence of yesterday’s Scottish Cup third-round tie at Broadwood Stadium, they are still exerting an influence from the touchline.
With 16 minutes left, the score level and Brora still threatening to pull off a significant coup for the Highland League, the Clyde management team briefly conferred on the touchline before replacing Stuart McColm with Kevin Watt, the young striker who scored against Gala Fairydean in the previous round.
The effect was instant. Kieran McDonald hit a low ball across the box, Watt diverted it in with his first touch, and Charnley was off dancing down the track like a young thing.
Inevitably, perhaps, it was put to Duffy later that it had been an inspired substitution.
“I don’t know about inspired, but fortunately it worked out for us,” said the Clyde manager. “Sometimes as a manager you get those wee breaks, and you take them. I’m just delighted for Kevin. He’s a terrific boy. In and around the box he comes to life. It was a great striker’s goal.
“I think we shaded a terrific game. All credit to Brora for coming down here and playing a very attack-minded side. They’ve been steamrolling teams in the Highland League so it was a real tough match for us and I’m delighted we are through.”
Brora are top of the Highland League after winning all nine of their matches so far and lifting the North of Scotland Cup into the bargain. Astutely guided by Davie Kirkwood, the former Rangers player, they have added experience to their squad by enlisting a few familiar faces. Ross Tokely, a veteran of Scotland’s top flight with Inverness, joined as a player-coach in January. Grant Munro arrived with a similar pedigree last month.
Those two are more than accustomed to the long hike south for matches against senior opposition, although their team-mates look just as capable of handling it.
The Brora bus set off at 7am, stopped at Perth and arrived in Cumbernauld with just enough time for a pre-match meal, but they needed only three minutes of the match to show that they should be taken seriously.
The Brora bench had barely finished acknowledging their tiny pocket of travelling supporters when they took the lead.
Steven MacKay’s shot came back off a defender, Zander Sutherland had a quick cut at the loose ball and Jamie Barclay was caught sleeping. The Clyde goalkeeper got a hand to it, but he could not prevent the goal.
Kirkwood and his backroom staff leapt from their dugout, and the Brora fans – one of whom brought his bagpipes – were jubilant, but it was no cause to be carried away. There was a long way to go, not as long as the journey home perhaps, but more than enough for Clyde to gather their composure.
As it turned out, the home side needed only ten minutes to restore parity. McColm’s through ball was perfect, as was the finish by Stefan McCluskey, who rounded the goalkeeper before poking it over the line from a tight angle.
Thereafter, the match settled down, with little to choose between the teams.
In the second half, there was a greater sense of adventure, firstly from Brora, and Sutherland in particular. The former Inverness player, a lively presence in attack, nearly produced the sweetest of goals with a left-foot volley that appeared to be heading for the far corner, but Barclay pushed it away.
Sutherland’s equivalent in the Clyde team was Scott Ferguson, a scamp of a lad patrolling the right wing. When Pat Scullion set him up with a deflected lay-off, his shot was turned round the post by Joe Malin. From the resulting corner, David Marsh looped a header on to the top of the crossbar.
Then came Watt’s winner, followed quickly by a Scott Sweeney shot that struck the post. It was, said Kirkwood, one solitary minute in which Brora lost their concentration. As the manager pointed out, they can afford to do that in the Highland League, but not in the Scottish Cup.
Mind you, Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, would have been impressed with Brora from his seat in the main stand. “I’ve known Ally for years, but we really struck up a relationship when [Rangers] came up for five days in the summer,” explained Kirkwood. “They used it as a training camp and thoroughly enjoyed themselves so maybe he is paying us back by coming along to support. It’s great that he shows an interest.”