Hopes of Capital derby against Hibs founder as Tweed's Montrose weather City storm

SHAUN STEVEN was left to ponder what might have been as Edinburgh City's hopes of a dream visit to Easter Road and a fifth round Active Nation Scottish Cup tie against Hibs were snuffed out by Montrose last night.

"We did not play very well for about half an hour in the first half when we looked a bit nervous, over-awed and off the pace," he admitted after the 3-1 defeat. "From then on until the final ten minutes we were by far the better team."

And while Hibs boss John Hughes, an interested spectator in the healthy crowd of 1,027, will no doubt have felt a tinge of disappointment that there will be no Edinburgh derby with his near-neighbours, he can take heart from the fact that the Easter Road side can look to progress to the next round instead against a team moored to the bottom of the SFL third division and who the likes of the watching Derek Riordan will remember only too well from a 9-0 League Cup thrashing in September 2003.

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City's hopes were finally extinguished by Montrose substitute Daryl Nicol who put the visitors 3-1 ahead with only six minutes remaining.

After opening the scoring from Steven Nicholas and then being pegged back by Dougie Gair's equaliser for City, The Gable Endies were hanging on to a narrow 2-1 advantage thanks to John Maitland when Nicol picked up a City free-kick from Shaun Harrison almost on the edge of his own penalty box. He took off on a mazy run across the half-way line and deep into the City defence without a serious challenge being made on him. When he found himself with only City goalkeeper Duncan Monteith to beat he rounded him and stroked the ball into the empty net.

It was a goal befitting of winning any game and set Steven Tweed's Montrose up for a glamour tie against his former side for whom he made over 100 appearances from 1991 to 1996.

Montrose, without a league win in their 18 games this season, had player/manager Tweed back in the heart of their defence. Another ex-Easter Road player, Andy McNeil, was in goals.

The twice-postponed fourth round game at Meadowbank saw City start in lively fashion and McNeil had to rush from his penalty box to clear from the in-rushing Peter Stenhouse. Danny Denholm then took off on a run down the left before he crossed a dangerous low ball which was hastily cleared by the Montrose defence. McNeil was then put under pressure by a pass back which he was happy to dispatch into the vast open terracing. After Tweed had brought down Ian McFarland to concede a free kick, Gair fired over a cross only for Stenhouse to direct his header wide.

The opening ten minutes had belonged to City but then the third division side gradually took control of the game. Sean Fleming hit in a terrific left-foot shot which Monteith did well to finger-tip for a corner then the keeper held a Maitland cross under pressure from John Gemmell. Chris Hegarty then brought out another exquisite save from Monteith who was the busier custodian.

Montrose opened the scoring in the 20th minute when McNeil punted a long ball forward and Gemmell headed it on to Nicholas. The striker dropped his shoulder and neatly evaded Michael Bruce on the edge of the box before he fired a low shot into the net from the edge of the penalty box.

However, seven minutes before half-time the home side equalised, much to the enjoyment of the majority of the spectators who gave Meadowbank Stadium its biggest footballing attendance since Manchester United were visitors in 2003. Denholm, who caused Montrose a few problems with his trickery on the left touchline, robbed defender Fraser Milligan and cut inside. He delivered a quality through ball to Gair who took the pass in his stride and calmly slipped the ball past McNeil and into the net at the back post.

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City gained confidence from their equaliser and dominated the remaining minutes of the half with Tweed happy to head a Denholm cross for a corner before Stenhouse fired a shot inches wide of the target.

Early in the second half Gair set up Denholm but unfortunately for the youngster he could not get the ball out from under his feet and City's reward was a fruitless corner. Gair himself was dispossessed on the edge of the penalty box after a good enterprising run as City more than matched their SFL opponents.

However, the home side were caught out in the 70th minute. Milligan found Maitland and his shot hit the inside of the post and rolled along the goal-line to City's Harrison who, with plenty of time, kicked the ball into touch. Montrose took a quick throw-in and when the ball was crossed back into the danger area Maitland rose to head the ball into the net. It was a cruel blow for City who were punished for a few seconds of indecision.

The introduction of Steven Clee up front brought a new dimension to City's attacking play and he combined well with Gair, Denholm and Jordan Caddow but they could not achieve the vital breakthrough and Montrose put the result beyond doubt with Nicholas' superb goal in the 84th minute.

The goal heralded the small group of vociferous Montrose fans to start chanting "Bring on the Hibees" although player/manger Tweed preferred to focus on last night's game when he said: "Meadowbank has to be one of the smallest pitches in Scotland – it's very tight and that suited Edinburgh City who played with five in midfield.

"We obviously made it hard for ourselves by making the error which led to City equalising but apart from that it was comfortable for us.

"The Hibs game will take care of itself, we are just happy to be in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup. We did a professional job, their goalkeeper Duncan Monteith made a lot of good saves and I think that says a lot about the game."

City manager Steven knew his team had passed up a golden opportunity to take something from the tie.

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"We had a great chance to go 2-1 ahead through Danny (Denholm] when the ball got stuck under his feet," he said. "Their second goal knocked the stuffing out of us mainly because we are such a young side with seven of our team still able to play Under 21 football. When Montrose hit the post we should just have taken the ball up the field instead of conceding a throw-in.

"Their third goal was because we had to push forward looking for an equaliser and they hit us on the break with fresh legs.

"I believe that I am an honest manager and I can honestly say that looking at things objectively I think that we were the better team. Without doubt we deserved to get something out of the game."

Gair, scorer of City's goal, said: "I think, to be very honest, that we were unlucky. We played a lot of good football, especially from when we equalised until the end of the game. We played passes, we created chances and we could easily have gone into a 2-1 lead when Danny had an opportunity. I also had a chance and if either of us had taken them then it would have been a different game. I seem to have the knack of scoring in Scottish Cup games so personally I was pleased to tuck one away but very disappointed that we did not win.

"Fitness was not a problem for us – we just did not have the know-how to get another vital goal."

City captain Ross Macnamara had the last word when he said: "I am absolutely gutted because I definitely feel that was one that got away. It was disappointing to lose such a simple second goal because winning football matches is about scoring goals at the right time and Montrose took their chance to make it 2-1. Even then I still felt that we could win the game."

Edinburgh City: Monteith, Harrison, Ross, Macnamara, Bruce, McFarland, Caddow, Gair, Stenhouse (Clee 60), Macfarlane, Denholm (Guthrie 80). Subs: Calladine, Bain, Mackintosh.

Montrose: McNeil, Milligan, Fleming (Tomana 82), Campbell, Tweed, Crighton, Maitland (Nicol 74), Davidson, Gemmell (Leyden 88), Hegarty, Nicholas. Subs: Anderson, Coutts.

Referee: Colin Brown

Crowd: 1,027