On a night when the romance of the Scottish Cup was anything but a tired old cliché, East Kilbride put their name firmly on the football map as they earned a lucrative fifth round tie against Celtic.
The Lowland League club, formed just five and a half years ago, overcame East of Scotland League champions Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale at a stage of the competition which was already uncharted territory for both.
Jack Smith, son of former Airdrie striker Andy who played in the 1992 and 1995 Scottish Cup finals, gave East Kilbride the lead just before half-time with his 28th goal of the season. Victory was secured by Sean Winter with four minutes remaining.
It was a win worth in the region of £150,000 to East Kilbride whose home tie against the Scottish champions will be at New Douglas Park on 7 February, screened live on BBC Scotland.
The old trophy itself may not have been at K-Park but few ties played in the tournament have had such a valuable prize on the line as the one tantalisingly in front of these two clubs.
All 650 tickets for the match sold out in just over half an hour and some of those who had missed out gathered on banking beside one of the wildlife trails in Calderglen Country Park, which houses the football club’s facilities, to catch a glimpse of the action.
Even Scotland manager Gordon Strachan was in attendance to see who could secure the dream date with Celtic.
East Kilbride were odds-on favourites with the bookmakers and it was the hosts who made by far the sharper start, stretching the Lothian Thistle HV defence with some impressively quick and fluid early attacks.
Craig Hastings flashed their first attempt of the night narrowly wide as they looked to test the visitors’ deputy goalkeeper Byron Gibb whose recovery from ‘flu spared player-coach Fraser Ogilvie from having to wear the gloves as has been anticipated.
Gibb looked less than secure when he flapped at a Martin McBride corner, the ball cleared off the line by Scott Taylor-Mackenzie. It prompted one home supporter to cruelly observe ‘you’d have been better aff playing the guy who broke his arm’ in reference to the weekend injury which had ruled Lothian Thistle HV’s first choice Kevin Swain out.
But Gibb and the rest of his team-mates settled down after their nervy start and began to ask questions of the East Kilbride defence which really should have seen them make the breakthrough before Smith struck for the South Lanarkshire side.
A rapid break from the appropriately named Willis Hare left him with a shooting chance but he opted to try and find team-mate Scott Gormley instead, allowing East Kilbride ‘keeper Matthew McGinley to cut it out.
Gormley then came close with a header over from Kevin Brown’s pass, before Hare missed Lothian Thistle HV’s best chance yet, striking the crossbar when unmarked 14 yards out.
The warning signs were there for the Saughton side that Smith was capable of making them pay for their failure to take those chances as the striker raced clear to force a decent save from Gibb with a low right-foot shot.
The young man from solid Scottish Cup stock then took full advantage of some slack play at the heart of the Lothian Thistle HV defence to underline just how he has been so prolific this season. This time, Gibb was left helpless as Smith’s rasping drive from the edge of the penalty area beat him to his right.
Much of the football produced by both sides was progressive and technically sound but it became increasingly scrappy as the night went on, reflecting the tension of the occasion with so much at stake.
Lothian had their chances to equalise, Gormley shooting wide from a good position and Hare seeing a good effort well saved by the impressive McGinley. But their hopes of a replay at Saughton Enclosure vanished when Winter sealed victory for East Kilbride in the closing stages. The former Stranraer player had come close a few minutes earlier with a snapshot but could not miss his 86th minute opening. It was a nightmare for Gibb who dropped a Bernard Coll corner from the left, presenting Winter with a simple tap-in which sparked jubilant scenes among the locals.