Auchinleck Talbot 1 - 0 Ayr United: Famous win as juniors stun Ayr to reach fifth round

There will be multitudes of suppers to mark the life Rabbie Burns in the coming days and he more than most would surely have appreciated the sheer romance served up by this Scottish Cup sensation deep in his beloved Ayrshire.

Talbot players celebrate after Craig McCracken's (centre) winner. Pic: SNS/Craig Williamson

In particular the national bard would have been especially tickled to see the gentry – in this occasion the Championship’s Ayr United – sent away with their tails between their legs by the footballers of the proud old mining village of Auchinleck.

This was no freak result. Talbot deserved it with a display that was steeped in professionalism in every aspect – fitness, tactical nous, formation, team ethos and, yes, a word that doesn’t instantly come up in conversations about the much derided Junior game, skill. Thrown together they produced a perfect game strategy on the day, with the breakthrough goal coming 12 minutes from time from a monumental header from centre-half Craig McCracken. As is almost obligatory in these giant killing tales, there is an ironic twist in that McCracken was once on Ayr’s books.

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It was sweet too for Auchinleck manager Tommy Sloan who was another who had a brief spell as a player at Somerset Park, though naturally he wished focus mainly on his side’s barnstorming endeavours in achieving one of the truly great Scottish Cup upsets.

“It was always the plan to hopefully stay in the game and bring some subs on in the last bit of the match to good effect,” he insisted with glowing pride. “We actually finished quite fresh whereas I thought Ayr looked quite ragged. Credit to the lads we’ve never played the formation we had today before.”

“It’s great for the profile of our club. We’ve always been thereabouts in the big Junior competitions but this is something else. I can’t wait for the draw. Hopefully it’s someone we can match – I’m not into having the Old Firm, it’s only the committee here that want that!”

We certainly knew enough about Auchinleck’s heritage going into this game to appreciate that viewing this tie through the normal David v Goliath lens provided only a hazy refracted view. Underdogs though Talbot may have been, their standing in the Junior game is nevertheless that of a towering monolith. To paraphrase an old adage, the Scottish Junior Cup features the finest sides up and down the country playing each other to determine who gets to play Auchinleck in the final.

Not that Sloan’s side are just a bunch of flat track bullies as their results in the Scottish Cup this season had already convincingly demonstrated. Cove Rangers might be the dominant side in Highland League football in recent times but they summarily pushed aside after being held on their own patch by Talbot then beaten 2–1 in the replay back in Ayrshire.

Talbot had therefore very much earned their day in the milky midday sun – and the hefty pay cheque from having the game broadcast live on national television – even before proceedings had kicked off. Folks who had never clapped eyes on Beechwood Park would have been impressed by its trim and well maintained facilities along with a playing surface that was of standard above more than a few in the SPFL.

As a closely contested game unfolded with no discernible difference in class on view, a sense of collective nagging doubt seem envelope Ayr. So consistently impressive in their performances in the Championship in the Autumn, Ian McCall’s side have started to descend into a bleak mid-winter. An injury to the astoundingly prolific Lawrence Shankland has inevitably derailed their progress and he was sorely missed.

The visitors may have held the upper hand in terms of chances in the opening 45 minutes with Michael Moffat looking a real threat, but it was actually Talbot who were the ones to find the back of the net only for Graham Wilson’s effort to be ruled out for offside. After the break however it was the home side that were the more menacing.

Rather than burn out from their colossal efforts the Junior side simply brought on fresh reinforcements and emphatically grabbed their chance in the closing stages. In another little twist Shankland had a role in it – Mark Shankland that is. The substitute floated a free-kick into the Ayr box and McCracken steered it into the net. History was made and Beechwood rocked.

“It’s the worst result of my playing and managerial career – but that takes away from Auchinleck Talbot, they deserved to win” conceded McCall.