Auchinleck Talbot boss Tucker Sloan won his sixth Junior Cup – and his 25th trophy as club manager – in the most dramatic of fashions at Rugby Park last night. Trailing at the end of 90 minutes, his cup specialists scored twice in time added on to win the old trophy for the 12th time in the club’s history.
As another multi-trophy-winning manager might have said: “Football, bloody hell.” Sloan, however, could only say: “Wow! I thought we had lost it, but we found a way to win and I have never been involved in as dramatic a finish.”
Even in victory, he had time for his former team-mate Darren Henderson, the Hurlford manager, who admitted: “I am still scratching my head as to how we lost that. But, fair play to Talbot, they have done this before to better teams than us and, if you cannot defend crosses, you lose.
“I could not have asked for more from my players but this is the biggest kick in the teeth I’ve ever had. We are a small club but we gave the best a real game today.”
As Sloan admitted, in the first half, United had bullied Talbot, going in front in four minutes after Ross Robertson – as he did in 2014 – won then converted a penalty. It was all Hurlford thereafter but, in 37 minutes, Talbot levelled when Gordon Pope’s deep free-kick was dinked back into the danger zone by Stephen Wilson for an unmarked Dwayne Hyslop to head home.
Indeed, Talbot, having barely been in the game, might have led at the break but a Graham Wilson header was cleared off the line.
In 54 minutes, Talbot’s Jamie Glasgow ran 50 metres but, with Graham Wilson unmarked and screaming or the square pass, he shot and the chance was lost. Wilson was clearly unhappy as he berated his team-mate.
“We had started the second half well and maybe if we had scored then it might have been easier. However, credit to Hurlford, they made us work for it,” said Sloan.
That missed chance seemed to come back and bite Talbot in 63 minutes when, with a handful of players waiting for a whistle which never came, Paul McKenzie kept playing, gathering the loose ball to drive past Pope and fire Hurlford back in front.
Thereafter, Talbot appeared to run out of ideas before Sloan went to his bench and the inspired introduction of Mark Shankland and Gareth Armstrong. The changes took some time to work but, as the match moved into time added-on, they struck.
Shankland’s corner from the left was nodded home by Graham Wilson and, from nowhere, Talbot had a lifeline. And how they grasped it.
Time ticked on into the third added minute and Talbot won themselves another corner, this time from the right-hand side.
Again, Shankland’s delivery was spot-on and the other substitute, Craig McCracken, pictured inset, rose to head home what, two minutes before, had seemed the least likely of winners, to take the cup to Auchinleck for the 12th time.
As veteran football writers in the press box were only too ready to tell their younger colleagues, that’s what Talbot do in the Scottish: they find a way to win the thing and they keep on doing it.
Shankland certainly did his bit – he had to, having been in the shadow of brother Stephen, who was a member of the Scottish Amateur Cup-winning Shortless team just a couple of weeks ago.
But that’s the Talbot way. When it comes to the Scottish Junior Cup, nobody does it better.