Spartans 1 - 1 Berwick: Non-league side survive

Spartans' Ally MacKinnon is mobbed by his team-mates following the last-gasp equaliser. Picture: SNS
Spartans' Ally MacKinnon is mobbed by his team-mates following the last-gasp equaliser. Picture: SNS
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THE dream lives. Another ridiculously enjoyable Scottish Cup afternoon at the home of Spartans stretched into injury time when Ally MacKinnon hammered home the equaliser to keep alive their hopes of becoming the first non-league team to reach the quarter-finals for almost half a century.

Scorers: Spartans - MacKinnon 90+1; Berwick Rangers - Willis 4

This looked liked being a plucky but ultimately unsuccessful effort for the prison officers, painter-decorators and PE teachers in red and white when, in the 91st minute, full-back Jack Nixon wound up for one last long throw. Substitute Errol Douglas got his head to this boomer and the central defender accepted the opportunity to set up a replay over the border on Tuesday week.

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Afterwards, Spartans manager Dougie Samuel admitted he thought the cup adventure was over for another year. “When the board goes up you think it’s unlikely you’re going to get back into it but maybe I should have had more faith in the boys because we scored late to beat Morton in the last round.

“I wouldn’t underestimate how important that match was in the context of today’s tie because, at half-time, it enabled us to remind the players that they have ability, they can play, and maybe they should back themselves a little more. For the first half-hour I thought we were suffering from stage fright.”

Samuel paid tribute to the good people of north Edinburgh who packed the tiny ground and cheered the team right to the end. The afternoon’s only bum note, quite literally, was the pre-match music, all of it from the personal collection of Tam Cowan. “He’s paid £100 into our community academy to choose the songs,” revealed the stadium announcer, “so if you don’t like them speak to him.” Truly, the Off the Ball funster’s selection was terrible: dismal Caledonian country-and-western and a never-ending procession of strangulated warblers, all topped off by Sydney Devine’s Scotland Forever or as Syd would have it “For-eh-eh-oh-vuh-ur”.

But then a kids’ samba band started up. Normally drummers at football matches are extremely annoying but we were all glad of this lot’s noisy intervention. There was warmth in the low winter sun, the plastic pitch was glistening, the academy boys were smiling and wondering how they were going to spend Cowan’s money – and everything was set for another great and hopefully memorable afternoon in the cup. Then Berwick scored.

After just four minutes the Spartans defence failed to clear and Paul Willis blasted a right-foot shot past the helpless Kenny Swain. The Lowland Leaguers had started nervously and Berwick’s opportunity to settle any possible jitters of their own had been accepted with relief.

Maybe Willis was wondering if he’d ever hit a better, zingier shot. He got another chance a few minutes later and blasted the ball right over the tiny five-a-side pitch where wee round men regularly kick lumps out of each other.

Craig Stevenson fits this description but he strived manfully in the Spartans midfield. He was aided by Iain Thomson, a veteran of the club’s earlier cup heroics who’s now forced to wear Edgar Davids-style goggles following a serious eye infection. But the pair struggled to carve out a chance for the man up front with the famous name, Willie Bremner.

Berwick threatened to increase their advantage. Lee Currie had a long-range free kick well gathered by Swain but then the keeper flapped at the ball and Blair Henderson really should have scored. However Spartans then managed to threaten through Nixon’s catapult deliveries from the touchline, with Thomson coming close with a shot.

Douglas should have scored soon after making his entrance after the break. Another substitute, Alan Brown, made a useful contribution to the cause. Jack Beesley’s twinkly feet featured more as Berwick sat back.

“Some of our boys seemed happy with one-nil,” admitted the Wee Gers manager Colin Cameron, a Scottish Cup winner with Hearts in 1998. “The game really should have been put to bed in the first half but we’ve got an unfortunate habit of conceding late goals.”

MacKinnon admitted he couldn’t remember much about the strike. “I just swung a leg at the ball. There was no finesse involved,” he said.

“We started slow, they started very well, and we were lucky today – I have no problems saying that. But in the second half, when the boys turned on the power up front, you can see what we’re about. Do I fancy us in the replay? One hundred per cent.”

Spartans: Swain, Nixon, Cennerazzo, Malone, MacKinnon, Motion (Douglas 60), Beesley, Thomson (Brown 45), Bremner, Sludden (Beacher 78), Stevenson.

Berwick: Bald, Jacobs, Drummond, Notman, Young, Fairbairn, Gray (Miller 69), Currie, Henderson (Russell 78), Lavery, Willis.

Referee: Don Robertson. Attendance: 2,504