They stared at the abyss of an ignominious exit from the SPFL for long spells of this League 2 play-off with Highland League Champions Brora Rangers but it all came good for Montrose in the closing 15 minutes yesterday, with Garry Wood sealing their survival with a blistering 30-yard strike.
Scorers: Montrose - Johnston 39, Andrews 75, Wood 78; Brora Rangers - C Maclean 47
Montrose win 3-2 on aggregate
Seemingly running out of ideas against opponents reduced to ten men for most of the second half, it was big Marvin Andrews, a man who has never hidden his belief in miracles, who soared to power in a header to put the tie level on aggregate and to set up the platform for the Angus club’s stirring comeback.
Afterwards the happy Montrose chairman, Derek Sim, reflected with relief on the emotional rollercoaster he had just witnessed. “Obviously we didn’t want to be the first league club to lose a pyramid play-off. We managed to prevail with some great football today and a tremendous atmosphere in the ground with over 2,000 fans with Brora contributing greatly to this.”
Despite this close brush with demotion, Sim professed himself a fan of the newly introduced play-off system.
“It was a great occasion and great for Scottish football,” he said. “I don’t want to go through it again next year, unless it’s a play-off at the other end of the league.
“We’ll sit down with Paul [Hegarty] and John [Holt] next week and look at the budget and playing squad for next season and try to support them 100 per cent”.
The significance of this game not only for the club, but for the town of Montrose, was highlighted by the lengthy queues outside Links Park – so much so that the kick-off was delayed by nearly 20 minutes to accommodate all of those who had come to witness this visit to the last chance saloon for the Angus club.
Unsurprisingly, given what was at stake, it was often a tetchy 90 minutes and both sides had players booked for simulation early on as first Wood for the hosts and then Steven Mackay for the visitors fell to the floor in their opponents’ penalty boxes.
After threatening through the first half, the hosts’ determination finally earned its deserved reward as the interval approached with Wood setting up Ross Campbell, whose effort was parried by Brora goalkeeper Joe Malin and the loose ball was hammered into the roof of the net by Scott Johnson to cancel out the visitors’ one-goal advantage from the first leg.
For a side that had gone through the entire Highland League season unbeaten, Brora had had a distinctly underwhelming opening 45 minutes but they stunned the now expectant home support by drawing level almost immediately on the restart through a Colin MacLean header. But almost immediately another dramatic twist as MacKay’s earlier misdemeanour came back to haunt him as he was shown a second yellow card, then red, for a poor challenge on Webster.
For a long while it looked as though Montrose had neither the guile nor composure to make their numerical advantage count. Malin pulled off some fine saves to add to their frustration, but then Andrews finally seized the moment when he bulleted a header from a corner with the clock beginning to count down.
At this point Brora were probably hoping that they might be able to pull down the shutters and take the tie to penalties but even this forlorn aspiration was blown away just three minutes later as the ever-persistent Wood lashed a spellbinding effort beyond Malin to bring some real joy right at the end of a long dark season for the Angus side.