Dream debut for Crooks as County win Challenge Cup

Ross County 1 Dowie (80)

Clyde 1 Hunter (43)

• Ross County win 5-4 on penalties after extra time

ROSS County eradicated the memory of their heartbreaking loss to Falkirk in the Challenge Cup final two years ago by inflicting a similarly devastating defeat on Clyde, who were beaten on penalties in Perth yesterday.

The hero of the hour for the victors was Jason Crooks, the 18-year-old striker who made his debut as an extra-time substitute and stroked home the winning spot kick after goalkeeper Craig Samson saved efforts from Neil McGregor and Chris Higgins.

Joe Miller's Clyde had looked to be taking the trophy back to Broadwood after Roddy Hunter gave them a first-half lead but County were the better side after the break and Andy Dowie equalised with nine minutes remaining to take the match into extra-time.

Crooks was introduced with five minutes of play remaining and revealed that Scott Leitch, his manager, challenged him to become an instant hero. "The gaffer told me to go on and become a hero so I just told him I would," he said. "The last time I took a penalty I missed so I knew I had to bury this one.

"Michael Gardyne told me to shoot to the left but I'd already made my mind up to go the other way and there was no chance I was changing. I told the manager that I would take a penalty and the way it worked out I was put in sixth place. I'm just delighted, this is the best feeling I've had in football."

The day could have been so different for Samson, who almost gifted Clyde two early goals. First he fumbled a passback to such an extent that Andy Ferguson almost nicked it off his toe, then had to scramble back to grab the ball on the line after being lobbed by Ferguson after a poor clearance.

Apart from the danger of his own making, Samson was largely untested until shortly before the interval when Neil McGregor's shot was kept out by a combination of the goalkeeper's hand and Dowie's body.

Just as County thought the danger was cleared, Clyde struck the opener. Ryan McCann's inch-perfect pass wound its way to the far side of the pitch for Hunter, who slammed a half-volley across Samson and into the far corner.

County dominated possession in the early stages of the second period, with Amick Ciani a stand-out for the Highlanders but the Frenchman missed two decent chances late on, first with a shot over the bar then with a weak header straight at David Hutton.

Clyde started to sit back and were caught out when Dowie bulleted home Don Cowie's free-kick from six yards.

Eddie Malone was sent off for a second booking in the 92nd minute, reducing Clyde to ten men and making penalties almost inevitable as Miller's side tried to hold out. "It's a hard one for my boys to take," said the Clyde player-manager. "We put a lot into the game but someone has to lose and it's unfortunate that it was us on this occasion.

"The young lads we have here have proved they can play and I'm sure they'll all bounce back from this."

Ross County: Samson, Irvine, Downie, McKinlay, Keddie, Gardyne, Gunn, Cowie (Robertson 101), Adams, Ciani (Crooks 115), Scott (Anderson 117). Subs: McCulloch, Malin.

Clyde: Hutton, McGregor, McKeown, Higgins, Malone, Bryson (Miller 107), McHale, O'Donnell, Ferguson (Bradley 79), Hunter (McKenna 79), McCann. Subs: Harris, Cherrie.