THE name of Spartans has long been synonymous with the romance of the Scottish Cup, but this tie was all about a lustful passion for a competition that seems to elevate the Edinburgh club to a level well beyond their non-league status.
The part-time minnows came from behind to snatch victory in the 90th minute against League 1 leaders Morton with a Jack Beesley strike that sent the majority of the Ainslie Park crowd into raptures.
It was an outcome that looked highly unlikely following the first half. Morton had been dominant and deservedly went ahead through Andy Barrowman. But with their backs to the wall and nothing to lose, Spartans came out fighting after the break.
There had been plenty of shots across the bow by the time Willie Bremner levelled in the 71st minute. Morton then had Stefan McCluskey ordered off for two yellow cards before Beesley struck.
Spartans have now added to a list of cup scalps that already includes Clyde, Alloa, Arbroath, Queen’s Park, Annan and Elgin.
“I have a great sense of pride,” said jubilant Spartans manager Dougie Samuel, whose side now go into tomorrow’s last-16 draw. “This one is sweeter because, in a way, we under-performed in the first half and I think we made it a little bit too easy for Morton.
“To show that strength of character in the second half, I think it was a fantastic effort from all the guys.”
Despite moving from their dilapidated City Park in 2008, the home of Spartans, who now play at a state-of-the-art complex across the road, remains a graveyard for the so-called professional clubs in the cup, as Clyde discovered in the last round.
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With Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who is patron of the Spartans Community Football Academy, looking on alongside Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan, a one-minute silence was impeccably observed before kick-off following the passing of former Morton director and legendary football broadcaster Arthur Montford. The sound of the Scotsport theme tune blaring out over the PA system was also a nice touch by the hosts.
There was little in the way of “stramashes” in a first half that was largely dominated by Morton. Following a sustained spell of pressure, the Greenock outfit were celebrating a tangible reward for their bright start when Barrowman shot home from close range after 25 minutes.
Mark Russell’s low drive across goal was only parried by goalkeeper Kevin Swain and Barrowman exhibited his predatory instincts to fire the ball in off the underside of the bar.
Spartans were much improved following the restart. Bremner’s header, just wide, was the warning that Morton failed to heed. Samuel’s side deservedly levelled in the 71st minute through the same player. The ball rolled to the forward inside the area and Bremner lashed a low drive through the diving Jamie McGowan.
Morton’s woes deepened when Stefan McCluskey collected a second yellow card with ten minutes left when he caught goalscorer Bremner.
Incredibly, Spartans clinched victory in the 90th minute. Substitute Jack Beacher’s low cross was picked up by Beesley and he was the epitome of cool as he rolled the ball past McGowan.
“It’s nice to score the winner in front of the national team manager,” said Beesley.
“I believed he cut short a television interview to come to the game so that’s a big coup for us to have the Scotland manager coming down to support us.”
Morton manager Jim Duffy was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “You have to congratulate Spartans. Today was a real shock to the system, there is no doubt about that.
“There will be a fair degree of criticism coming our way and we have to accept it.”
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