BONNYRIGG ROSE couldn’t quite match the weekend heroics of Hibs and Hearts but their hopes of setting up another cup final date next month are still alive.Max Christie’s men held holders Auchinleck in the first leg of their Junior Cup semi-final and believe they can now spring an upset by winning the return clash in Ayrshire this weekend.
“I actually think we are better away from home as teams come on to us and we can hit them on the counter-attack,” insisted Rose defender David Dunn, who was involved in one of the game’s big talking points.
Referee Andrew Dallas adjudged him to have manhandled Mick McCann in the box early in the second-half for Gordon Pope to fire Talbot ahead from the penalty spot.
But they were denied an advantage heading into the second leg when substitute Paul Shields steered a Sean Grady cross into the roof of the net with just six minutes to go.
“The rest of the lads are all saying it was a soft penalty and I agree with them,” declared Dunn, who scored in the previous round against Irvine Meadow to help set-up the last four-clash.
“The referee, who I thought had a good game otherwise, said I had my hand on his back but I spoke to their player after the game and even he said he wasn’t claiming for it.
“The Auchinleck fans behind the goals might have influenced him and before that our keeper slid out of the box without being penalised so perhaps he was looking to give them something to make up for that.”
A bumper crowd of just under 2500 that included Scotland captain Darren Fletcher wasn’t treated to the most entertaining encounter of the season. But they certainly weren’t short-changed on effort and no-one gave more in that department than Rose’s terrier-like midfielder Alex King. Christie admitted afterwards that he wants to see the former Spartans player be more “dominant” on the ball in the return joust in Ayrshire. But King still managed to achieve what few others have done before him by getting under the skin of the likes of Colin Spence and Steven White in the Auchinleck engine room.
The little man never shirked a tackle all afternoon and showed his silky side on occasions as well, notably in the second-half when he was taking the ball off the toe off an opponent in the middle of his own half one second and had burst to the edge of the other box in a flash.
Fans were still piling in – one had brought his dog dressed in a red and white striped coat – when Talbot striker Kier Milliken rattled the post with a shot in the 17th minute. Rose midfielder David Burrell replied with a drive that went wide at the other end before a rampaging run by James Steele ended with his stabbed shot being blocked by Andy Leishman in the Auchinleck goal.
The visiting fans howled in vain for a penalty, claiming handball, from an early second-half corner before Dallas left Dunn feeling he’d been harshly treated as the official did point to the spot in the 55th minute.
While Rose responded by huffing and puffing, it wasn’t really until Shields came on with 14 minutes to go that they looked like getting back on level terms. On-loan Berwick Rangers defender Stephen Thomson lofted a ball into the box and found Grady, who failed with his first attempt to pick out Shields but got it spot on at the second time of asking with a low cross into the six-yard box.
Both managers were honest in their assessments and agreed the tie is wide open at the half-time whistle. “I think that’s the best team we’ve played this season. I can see what the fuss is about in that they compete very well right across the park,” said Christie.
“I would have taken 1-1 but, at the same time, we can be much better than that so we are very still very much in the tie.
“We know what they are about now and psychologically it might not be a good thing not going down there with a lead.”
On the penalty, he added: “It was soft. I thought it was terrible decision but that’s by the by now. We need to be stronger on the ball in the return leg and play our football as they are not a normal team you play against due to their tempo.”
Shields was on the bench as he’s recovering from injury but, having made an impact that not only impressed his own manager but also Talbot boss Tommy Sloan, the former Celtic and Raith Rovers striker could be set for a starting role this weekend.
“Shields caused us a problem, he’s got a bit of strength to hold the ball up,” admitted Sloan, who also acknowledged the two-legged nature of the tie had left him in two minds about trying to protect their 1-0 lead or pushing for more.
He opted for the latter and reckoned that had back-fired. “It’s not natural for us to sit in but I thought we were a bit rugged at the end with players chasing the game.
“However, we’ve got a home game to get through to final and would have grabbed that at start of the season.”
Bonnyrigg Rose: Weir, McLeish, Stephen Thomson, McKenna (Gray 69), Dunn, Stevie Thomson, King, Burrell, Archibald, Grady, Steele (Shields 76). Subs: McCallum, Paliczka, Hendrie, Morrice, Burgess.
Auchinleck Talbot: Leishman, McGoldrick, Pope, Pettigrew, Robb, Faulds (Young 65), Spence, White, Milliken (Park 74), McCann (Slavin 71), Latta. Subs: Paterson, McVey, McGerrity, Collins.