Alex Cunningham gets perfect send-off as Civil Service Strollers win cup

Alex Cunningham was given a fairytale send-off in his last game as Civil Service Strollers boss after a last-gasp overhead kick from Paolo Buzzi clinched the South Challenge Cup with a 2-1 extra-time win over BSC Glasgow.

Departing Civil Service Strollers manager Alex Cunningham lifts the South Challenge Cup with captain Stephen Froude. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Second-half goals from Steven Froude and Josh McArthur forced an extra half-an-hour, with Buzzi’s stunning winner coming just as a penalty shoot-out looked to be required.

“It’s a perfect send-off – I couldn’t have asked for any more,” said a beaming Cunningham. “It goes to extra-time and then what a goal. What a goal. It’s the best I’ve seen. We’ve scored a few good ones – James Hainey scored a really good one in the semi-final – but that was just outstanding.

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“I had the names written down on a piece of paper for penalties and was thinking, ‘here we go’ and it becomes a lottery, but what a way to finish.”

The victorious Strollers squad with the cup

BSC were claiming for an early penalty after Kyle Fee’s challenge prevented Tom Bentham from shooting from close range, but the defender was judged to have played the ball.

Bentham then did get a shot away after a well worked opening, but Strollers keeper Stuart Burnside did well with his legs.

There was little in the way of clear chances after that as the game edged towards half-time, despite Civil edging things territorially. A near-post corner from Ian Ballantine was met by Jack Downie, but he couldn’t keep his flicked header low enough to trouble Ryan Marshall.

The breakthrough arrived shortly after the hour via a fine counter attack. Andy Mair drove down the left and delivered a great ball to the back post to pick out Froude, who nodded Strollers into the lead.

That seemed to spark BSC into life, however, and they levelled with around 15 minutes remaining. Stevie Murray’s volley across goal was powerful, but wasn’t going in before McArthur was able to divert it goalwards.

Strollers’ Craig Newal looked to take advantage of a late defensive lapse and his shot beat Marshall at the near post, but only found the side netting.

BSC then almost won it in stoppage time when captain Ross McMillan glanced a free header wide from a corner.

Buzzi had the only real opportunity during the first period of extra-time, but his volley was straight down Marshall’s throat.

Martin Grehan’s fine strike was deflected narrowly wide and his header from the resulting corner was kicked off the line as BSC pushed for a late winner. Another swift counter from Civil almost brought a goal, but Marshall was down sharply to tip Froude’s deflected low strike around the post.

He could do nothing about the winner though, Buzzi with an outrageous overhead kick into the top corner, sparking wild celebrations involving just about the entire Strollers squad.

Cunningham will now take a step back from management, with former Edinburgh City manager Gary Jardine taking the reins. “Gary brings a lot of experience,” he said. “I know he’s a lot younger than me but he brings a lot. You see it in the training and the way in which we prepare for games now. It’s really good and the players have really responded to it.

“It could have gone the other way with Gary coming in and maybe doesn’t go well, but it’s been really good.”

Will Cunningham miss management? “No!” was the emphatic response. “The phoning players, making sure everyone’s there, no. I’m 61 now so I’m quite happy to be going out.”

BSC Glasgow: Marshall, Tennent, Mills, McArthur, McStay, McMillan, Redpath (Smith 109), Duncan (McNab 71), Bentham, Grehan, Murray.

Civil Service Strollers: Burnside, Newal, Mair, Fee, Turnbull (Hainey 101), Laird, McConnell, Clapperton (Churchill 68), Froude, Downie, Ballantine (Buzzi 86).

Referee: Kyle Hall.