One hundred and thirty five years of football history at the first club to give the game’s greatest-ever manager a job are now under threat from Edinburgh City.
The Citizens will play East Stirlingshire, once bossed by Alex Ferguson, for the right to have their scores read out on national television after becoming the first club from the Lowland League to qualify for the Pyramid Play-off Final.
It’s a terrible prospect for Shire, slipping out of the SPFL, off the football map, no more mentions in the Saturday tea-time results rounds-ups. League Two’s bottom team will have watched City and been impressed by their organisation, cramming the midfield to throttle Cove Rangers from the Highland League, then casually putting the semi-final beyond doubt.
Afterwards a delighted Gary Jardine, City’s manager, said of the two-legged final: “We’re going away to get ready for the biggest games in our club’s history. I thought the boys managed today really, really well – they were fantastic.”
They’re not shy, these Edinburgh City boys. Beforehand they were comparing themselves to Atletico Madrid. Well, not in an our-striker’s-as-good-as-Antoine Griezmann way, but simply to make the point that in last week’s first leg Cove had a lot of the ball, just as Barcelona did against Atletico in the Champions League, but didn’t dominate. And, despite Hearts being desperate to stop Celtic winning the Premiership title at Tynecastle, and Hibernian being just as desperate to roar into second place in the Championship at Easter Road, they cheekily wondered if their match was Edinburgh’s biggest of the weekend.
A decent-sized crowd gathered in Meadowbank’s brutalist stand in the sunshine to see City’s equally formidable and uncompromising centre-back Joseph Mbu repel Cove’s early attacks with his height and bulk. These wee Rangers, 3-0 down on aggregate after the first leg, needed to score quickly to make a contest of it. Best bet was their 42-goal striker Daryl Nicol, soon to emigrate to Australia.
Cove had to change their goalie, John McCafferty replacing Stuart McKenzie who was on his stag weekend in Budapest. But Jamie Watt, who had been golfing in Turkey last week, was back in their squad. Were Cove taking the Pyramid seriously? Oh yes, they really wanted to win it, having battled to the Highland League title with home games at four different locations – but City captain Dougie Gair, pictured, killed the tie on the half-hour mark when slack defending allowed him to run onto his own punt and lob McCafferty.
Last season at this stage City had been beaten by Brora Rangers who then expressed some reticence about joining the big boys because of the long distances involved, and ended up losing the final to Montrose anyway. City, though, definitely fancy making the leap.
The first half had been uneventful and spectators making their first visit to Meadowbank for a while had plenty of time to admire the line of trees growing inside the stadium. Despite the deficit, Cove began the second half with purpose to try and regain some Highland pride, but City striker Ross Allum – who scored two in the first leg – was afforded the clearest sight of goal only to drive straight at McCafferty, proving beyond doubt that he’s not Griezmann. With five minutes remaining, Cove substitute Jamie Watt levelled the match with a header, but it was City’s day.
Jardine admitted that despite City’s healthy lead from the first leg, yesterday presented a challenge. How do you prepare a team when they’re already three-nil to the good? It’s all part of the learning curve for this ambitious club. “Now I’ve got to think about East Stirling,” he added. “I didn’t give them any thought beforehand. That would have been tempting fate.”