After a 2-week break due to weather Bathgate were finally back in action in the 2nd round of the Ian McDonald Cup against Lothian East club, Victoria Loco. With conditions perfect for playing football on the 3G surface at Saughton, Thistle hoped to secure a victory and move into the quarter finals of the competition.
Things could not have started any better when they took the lead after 3 minutes with a goal from Euan McCraw, who recently re-signed for the club after a long spell out with injury. After winning the ball well in midfield, Barrie Lewis and Mark Neil combined superbly to put McCraw through on the left edge of the box where he curled a low shot past the best efforts of the keeper and into the far corner of the net.
In a sign of things to come in the tie it wasn’t too long before Loco were back level. On 14 minutes Loco attacked down Bathgate’s right hand side then worked the ball inside for their centre forward to hold the ball up and roll it on to an onrushing team mate to finish low past Gordon Clark in the Bathgate goal. After this the match settled down a bit as both teams looked for openings. Despite the excellent playing surface Bathgate invited pressure from the opposition by playing too many balls in the air which were not finding their target. Credit to the team though as after about 35 minutes chances started to arrive again once they moved the ball around the deck better – Lewis, Byle and Nisbet especially were looking to combine together down the left to create openings. Just before this though Loco had another chance to take the lead with a similar move to their first goal, this time Clark was able to close the space make a good save and knock the ball past the post.
Towards the end of the half Bathgate had two efforts which could have seen them go in ahead at half-time. On 42 minutes good work by Lewis on the left saw the ball make its way to McMahon and his shot took a deflection which forced the keeper into a save and touch the ball onto and over the bar. 2 minute slater the keeper was again forced to knock the ball onto the bar and over after McCraw, under pressure from defenders, forced a lob, towards goal.
Bathgate went out for the 2nd half with the instructions that more was needed from them and that the ball needed to be used better, and it certainly seemed to work as a much improved display was given by all. They took the lead after a free-kick from Nisbet was held up by McCraw, who laid off to Pettigrew for him to play in Mark Neil and his shot was well saved by the keeper but as the ball looped up in the air, Neil was able to react quickest and highest to head over defenders and keeper and into the net.
The 2nd half saw the Bathgate defence cope well with the Loco attacks and Drew Anderson and Michael Tugman, along with David Bell and Scott Nisbet, worked well to nullify the experienced centre forward – Anderson and Tugman in particular being especially quick and sharp to cancel out his threat. An equalising goal did arrive around the 65 minute mark when a corner was met superbly by one of the Loco players to head powerfully into the net from around 12 yards.
The introduction of another recent signing, Johnnie McLeod, provided Bathgate with another option and his direct running began to cause some problems for the Victoria Loco defenders and one such run saw a cut back to Lewis who then provided a lay off to McMahon and his shot went narrowly over the bar. Around the 70 minute mark Bathgate seemed to grow stronger and the team played a lot of nice football. One such passage of play saw Lewis and Pettigrew combine to play in Mark Neil to finish low and score his 2nd goal of the game and give Bathgate a 3-2 lead. McLeod then produced a good run and took on the Loco players before getting a shot away which flew just over the bar.
A 4th goal nearly arrived near the end when a chance arrived for Neil Davey but his shot was knocked just past the post. The 4th goal did arrive in added time to cap a good 2nd half performance when a strong run from Pettigrew and link up with McLeod saw him receive a pass on the 18 yard line which he met first-time to steer low past the keeper and in to secure Bathgate’s passage to the quarter final.