ALBION Rovers were within 20 minutes of one of the best results in their history yesterday before their Scottish Cup quarter-final against Rangers ended in a 1-1 draw at Ibrox.
Bilel Mohsni pulled back a late goal for the home team after Ciaran Donnelly had given the Coatbridge side an early lead but, although Rangers heaped on the pressure in the closing stages of the game, Rovers held on for the replay.
That match will be held a week tomorrow at Hamilton Accies’ New Douglas Park, with the winners going through to a semi-final against Dundee United, who crushed Inverness Caledonian Thistle 5-0 in yesterday’s other last-eight tie. St Johnstone and Aberdeen, winners on Saturday against Raith Rovers and Dumbarton respectively, will meet in the other semi-final. With Hampden out of commission, both semi-finals will take place at Ibrox.
While the Albion Rovers players felt dejected after the match as a result of being pegged back, the League 2 club’s manager James Ward insisted they should be proud of what they had achieved so far and have confidence in their ability to go further still.
“I’ve been saying all week to people that we were capable of winning,” said Ward, whose club were runners-up in the competition to Kilmarnock back in 1920. “I think no-one believed me. But we showed today as a group how capable we are.
“The players deserve immense credit for what they achieved today. It’s a fantastic performance in terms of their organisation and discipline.
“That group of players have achieved something today. It might not have been what we hoped with the goal we conceded near the end, but they have a fantastic thing to carry forward with them.
“I do not change my view. We are capable of beating Rangers. Hopefully, some of you might come along with me now, but I don’t think you will. We’ll do our best to convince you in the replay.”
Mohsni’s 77th-minute goal provoked protests from some Rovers players who felt the Frenchman had impeded goalkeeper Neil Parry, but Ward accepted the header had deserved to stand. “It’s a goal – there’s nothing I can do to change it,” he added. “I don’t want to dwell on that, because it shouldn’t take away from what we achieved. The focus should be solely on the quality of our performance. We were under immense pressure in the second half – we defended manfully at every opportunity. Neil Parry was fantastic in the second half.
“It’s an immense performance and you only need to look at the reaction of the supporters at the end. That was for them and for all of the people at our club.
“The chairman just said he will give us a rise. Considering I don’t get paid now, that’s quite something. Hopefully, this will give the club a better foundation – if that means we get a contribution to make our team better, we’ll deal with that but it’s not about money. It’s about the opportunity for those boys in there to be remembered for something rather than for nothing.”
Parry politely disagreed with his manager’s assessment of the equaliser, but echoed Ward’s sentiments when he said he did not want one incident to detract from his team’s performance over the 90 minutes. “Personally, I thought it was a foul,” said the goalkeeper, who works in the tax centre in East Kilbride.
“He jumped with his arm into me and it would have been interesting if it had been the same scenario at the other end and it was to make it 2-0 for us. I don’t know. People will judge for themselves whether they think it’s a foul. I was certainly disappointed at the decision. The referee didn’t really explain the decision, he just said he didn’t think it was a foul.
“But I don’t want that to take away from what was a terrific performance from all the boys. Everybody wrote us off before the game and thought we were here to make up the numbers, but a lot of the team did themselves proud.
“The credit we take is that we’d still ten to 15 minutes after Rangers scored and a lot of teams would have crumbled after that and we didn’t. We limited them to a few chances, but we have to take huge credit for keeping the ball when we had to. Everyone was dead on their feet at the end.
“Before the match we’d have been delighted with a 1-1 draw, but we don’t want this to be a hard-luck story. We’ve got a replay a week on Tuesday so we’ll prepare for that professionally and hopefully get through to the semi-final.”
Rangers manager Ally McCoist was also keen to praise Rovers, opting not to be over-critical of his team after a match that came close to matching his club’s defeats by Berwick Rangers in 1967 and by Hamilton two decades later. “Obviously I’m relieved we’re still in the cup – for 70-odd minutes we weren’t going to be,” he said.
“We kept going and got the goal and right now the overwhelming feeling is relief. I thought Albion Rovers defended really, really well, but I thought on pressure we deserved to take something from the game and we got a draw.”
Rangers will win League 1 on Wednesday if they win at home to Airdrie, and McCoist said that game, and the quarter-final replay, had to be his focus before he entertained any thoughts about the possibility of meeting United in the last four. “I think it would be wild of me to have the audacity to look forward to a home tie against Dundee United. I’m certainly not going to do that. There’s certainly plenty time and a lot of football between now and hopefully a Dundee United game.”
Asked if his team’s failure to beat Rovers should be classed as an embarrassment, McCoist implied that anyone who thought like that had an unrealistic idea of what life for Rangers is like at present. “I think it’s disrespectful to Albion Rovers, who knocked Motherwell out of the cup.
“I think people maybe get carried away with where our club and our team is at this moment. It’s highly disrespectful of people to say that and I’m not going to say it.”
SEMI FINAL DRAW
St Johnstone v Aberdeen
Rangers or Albion Rovers v Dundee United
Ties to be played on the weekend of 12 and 13 April at Ibrox Stadium.