Paul Hartley was effusive in his praise of Cove Rangers’ ultimately futile attempt to become the first Highland League club since Elgin City 50 years ago to reach the Scottish Cup quarter finals and the Falkirk manager’s comments weren’t entirely concerned with maintaining family harmony.
After all, his counterpart in the opposition’s dug out just happened to be John Sheran, father of Hartley’s partner Lisa and their daughter Olivia’s grandfather, but the former Scotland international midfielder knows the bragging rights at last night’s get together were actually hard earned.
The Highland League’s own version of the invincibles provided ample evidence of why they remain unbeaten in their own division since December 2016, only to be undone by a lack of concentration at the start of both halves.
They fell behind to an Alex Jakubiak goal within 100 seconds of the start of the tie, managed to equalise just as rapidly with Mitch Megginson’s 38th goal of the season then looked the more dangerous side from then until the interval.
If the Falkirk manager and his players were rightly concerned about being on the wrong end of a shock result then those anxiety’s melted away quicker than the ice that had threatened a postponement earlier in the day.
Within three minutes of the restart Craig Sibbald and Jakubiak again, had scored the goals that ended any chance of an upset allowing Hartley to look forward to an enjoyable evening as he said:“I think me and John will enjoy a nice glass of red wine tonight.
“I’ve got to give him credit – his team were good today, but we’ll have a nice night tonight, a bite to eat and a few drinks. For the first half, they were much better than us and we couldn’t cope with them.
“We didn’t deal with the conditions properly but we made a really good start to the second half. There was a little bit of calm in the dressing room to say we had handle to the pitch better, pass better, manage the game better and we did to make a dream start to the second half.
“We’re looking forward to the draw to see where it takes us. It has been a real testing season for the club and supporters.It gives them a lot of joy tonight and a good trip down the road.”
It was certainly a testing start to Hartley’s time in charge of the club but the signs are his influence is starting to pay off as they are moving in the right direction in the league table as well as having next month’s quarter final to look forward to.
The addition of Jakubiak on loan from Watford could be crucial in that as the former Scotland u19 international’s pace, movement and finishing stood out right from the start of the match.
Lewis Kidd took advantage of a poor touch by Alan Redford to provide the cross that Jakubiak guided into the net to give the Championship side the lead with less than two minutes on the clock.
Within a minute Cove Rangers were level as Scott Ross picked out Mitch Megginson and the product of Aberdeen’s youth academy applied the sort of clinical finish you would expect from someone who had already hit the target 37 times previously this season.
It was then that another of Hartley’s loan signings, Celtic’s teenage goalkeeper Connor Hazard, showed what a good capture he can be by preventing Paul Watson scoring an own goal while making important saves from Megginson and an audacious Jamie Masson 40 yard free kick in the first half.
Unfortunately Cove’s good work was undone when Craig Sibbald scored 50 seconds into the second half and two minutes later Rory Loy slid the perfect pass into the path of Jakubiak who coolly finished his second of the afternoon and his fourth since moving to the club.
Cove Rangers manager Sheran was disappointed but with a new £3.5m stadium coming on stream in Aberdeen next season he is convinced they can make an impact in the senior leagues if they can progress through the pyramid system.
He said:“We’ve been in against a few league teams this year from Leagues One and Two and now the Championship. We certainly believe we can compete with them.
“One-off games are always easier than being in there every week, but we’re certainly building towards a squad that can compete every week.”