WHEN Albion Rovers started their Scottish Cup campaign they went into the second-round clash with Spartans having failed to win any of their last 12 ties in any cup competition.
SCORERS - McMillan 23og; Phillips 67
Now, thanks to yesterday’s 2-0 win over Stenhousemuir, they take their place in the last eight for the first time since 1934.
Ross McMillan’s first-half own goal sent the League Two side on their way and amid some extreme pressure from their third tier opposition, they were able to break away and add a second through Gary Phillips, pictured.
With fellow lower league teams such as Raith Rovers and Dumbarton certain to be in the draw, Albion Rovers can hold on to some remote hope that this incredible journey needn’t come to a halt just yet.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic. I mean, 80 years?” beamed a jubilant James Ward, the Albion Rovers manager. “I said to the boys, if a club waits 80 years for this chance, how many times do you think as players you will get this opportunity? To be fair to them, they worked their absolute backsides off.
“I don’t think anybody would like to come here. It’s been a fantastic run so far. We haven’t even conceded a goal, which is unbelievable for a club our size reaching the quarters. I would take anyone in the next round. Today is not about me. Today is about a football club and supporters who don’t get a lot of days like this.”
Those same supporters stayed behind to give the team rapturous applause off the park and then again when the whole squad re-emerged two minutes later. It was the least they deserved for a determined performance that, in the end, was the difference between the sides. Put simply, Albion Rovers wanted it more.
Stenhousemuir may not have had to wait 80 years and they may have come into the match as favourites, but as the home support basked in the glory, the travelling fans were left to trudge off, burdened by the knowledge that their own chance at history had been blown.
“It was a huge disappointment,” reflected interim head coach Brown Ferguson. “What makes it so bad is that we know we never produced anywhere near enough to win the tie. We never created anywhere near enough or asked enough questions.”
Had the away side continued their performance in the first ten minutes throughout the game then it could have been them writing themselves in the history books as the first Stenhousemuir team to reach the last eight since 1995. Instead they wasted opportunities around the box to create chances and watched the underdogs grow into the game.
The opening goal was a fluke, but it arrived at a time when the hosts were beginning to get on top of things. Alan Reid’s attempted up-and-under caught Ross McMillan flat-footed and when the centre half tried to rectify the situation, he succeeded only in sending a looping header straight into the air that dropped over the back-tracking Chris Smith.
If Albion were expecting a reaction they didn’t get it until the second half. Stenhousemuir started on top and had the home side camped around their own penalty box for long periods, but still never looked like breaking through.
Instead, a rare home attack saw Mark McGuigan’s out-swinging cross to the back post cleared only as far as Phillips and he drilled the ball into the bottom corner with a well executed falling volley. The attacker scored the winner against Motherwell in the last round and he was the hero once more.