Following last week’s 2nd round win against Victoria Loco’s, Bathgate faced Musselburgh Windsor in the quarter finals of the Ian McDonald Cup and there was a definite difference in conditions and circumstances between the two games. Whereas the previous week saw a large squad travel through to Edinburgh to play in perfect conditions on a perfect 3G surface, this time the team were down to the bare bones of 11 players and a less than perfect Meadow Park pitch to play on.
Despite the lack of numbers, due to work, injuries, suspensions and Valentine’s weekend, the team were eager to not let this defeat them and went onto the park eager to put in a good performance and secure a semi-final place. In the early stages of the match Bathgate found themselves under pressure as the players adapted to new positions and new partnerships – Byle and Love in particular forming a central defensive pairing that was untried and untested. Credit to both though as they worked well to clear any danger that Musselburgh created, as well as trying to build play from the back. As both teams settled into the game Bathgate began to push forward more and Mark Neil and Neil Davey both tried hard to create openings down their respective wings for Barrie Lewis and Gary Pollock upfront.
The first talking point of the match came when a through ball saw Lewis run in on goal only to be upended by the defender trailing in his wake. There was certainly a case for the referee perhaps showing a red card to the defender but it was probably right that a yellow was shown as other defenders closed in. The foul took place right outside the box and Scott Nisbet stepped up to drive a free-kick only just over the bar. As the ball left Nisbet’s foot it looked to be heading into the top corner but the pace on the ball saw it rise just over.
Bathgate did take the lead when a long throw from the left saw Davey rise well to flick the ball on in the box and Gary Pollock, returning from suspension, did well to rise above the defender to generate enough power to loop the ball into the top of the net from around 8 yards out. Bathgate’s second goal arrived when a clearance from debutant keeper Mo Crooks was flicked on by Glen McMahon to Lewis, who controlled the ball under pressure to turn and volley perfectly on to meet the run of Mark Neil who sprinted in on goal and finish low and hard into the opposite corner of the net.
A deserved lead at half-time was certainly not being taken for granted and with no substitutes at Thistle’s disposal, a disciplined and organised half would be required to ensure the team were ready for the expected Musselburgh pressure. The plan was working well until a ball over the top saw Nisbet, who had been outstanding so far, unable to get a clearance away under pressure from the attacker. This forced Crooks to rush from goal to try and clear but saw the ball knocked past him by the Musselburgh player and take the player down inside the box. This resulted in a sending off and a penalty to face, and David Bell took the gloves to play in goals. The penalty was despatched well and gave Musselburgh the boost they needed to apply pressure for the rest of the match. Thistle’s misfortunes didn’t end here however as illness and injury forced Byle to assume the goalkeeping position and did well to make some unorthodox saves as the pressure continued. It wasn’’t all one way traffic and Pettigrew and McMahon did their best to shield the defence but still try to build and create play.
Near the end though, and with Musselburgh throwing 4 upfront Bathgate lost a cruel goal when the Musselburgh player cut in from the left wing and a speculative shot/cross struck the junction of post and bar to bounce down and along the line and in to give Musselburgh the equaliser.
As the match went into extra time it was clear that fatigue was showing in the Bathgate players and Musselburgh’s pressure paid off when they scored early in the first period. A corner from the left saw the ball fall kindly in the six yard box to one of their players and he was quickest to react and drive the ball home. This left Bathgate with an uphill battle and they tried manfully to get an equaliser but also had to contend with Musselburgh threatening to extend their lead as Bathgate pushed men forward. The nearest chance fell near the end when Neil Davey rose well at the back post to get a header in but was unable to hit the target as he was crowded by defenders. In the end a fantastic effort by all the players and many positives to build on despite the result not going for the team, and best wishes to Musselburgh in the semi-final.