Greenock Juniors 1 – 1 Bathgate Thistle (Bathgate win 4-3 on penalties)
By Jonathon Reilly
Bathgate Thistle edged past Greenock Juniors 4-3 in a tense penalty shootout to progress into the third round of the Scottish Junior Cup after the sides’ 1-1 draw at Ravenscraig Stadium.
Having taken the lead in the second-half through Hassan Nyang, the Jags’ hopes of a comfortable passage through to the next round were dashed when Kenneth Munro levelled from the spot 15 minutes from time.
With neither side able to produce a winner in the closing stages, the match went straight to penalties and it was the away side who held their nerve as substitute Andrew Malone converted Bathgate’s decisive fifth penalty.
Given Bathgate’s slow start in last weekend’s 2-2 stalemate between the two clubs it was evident the visitors were intent on making up for that poor showing when they carved out the game’s first goal-scoring opportunity in the opening minutes.
A piece of clever play from Ross Young won a corner off David McGarrigle and Rhys Minnock’s inswinging delivery was met by Nyang who could only head wide.
Greenock were not prepared to go down easily on home soil and David McNeil forced Gavin McQuillan into some early action when he broke down the left and unleashed a fizzing cross which the Jags keeper did well to smother.
Bathgate quickly rallied and broke up the field with Declan Brady picking out Minnock on the right wing. Young then latched on to the midfielder’s incisive through ball and snatched at an effort which was collected easily by Ryan McWilliams in the Greenock goal.
It was then the home side’s turn to try to break the deadlock as Munro evaded the Bathgate defence only to head Jamie Cunning’s cross into the side netting.
Operating from a central midfield role, Brady came close to giving Bathgate the advantage when his audacious attempt from the edge of the centre circle sailed just over the crossbar.
The visitors were only inches away again as Bryan Jaconelli sent the ball wide from an acute angle. Graham Baird’s tenacity in the middle of the park had retrieved possession for his side and he then picked the striker out 25 yards from goal.
Jaconelli glided past centre-half Paul Scott before trying to round the keeper; the tight angle he left himself with meant he had little to aim at but his driven shot was not far from opening the scoring.
Bathgate survived a scare on the half-hour when Stuart Macleod blocked McNeil’s cross on the six-yard line and prevented a golden chance for Munro to squeeze in at the back post.
The Jags then had McQuillan to thank for keeping the scores level as he palmed Craig Brown’s curling effort away from the bottom right-hand corner.
Jaconelli’s second chance of the match proved to be the final noteworthy attempt of the first-half. After racing on to Minnock’s astute pass and beating both Greenock centre-halves, he lacked the necessary composure and shot straight at a grateful McWilliams.
Again it was the Jags who were the quickest out of the blocks as the second-half got under way. Grant MacDonald combined well with Minnock down the right-hand side before drifting infield and playing a one-two with Young but the full-back’s shot was saved comfortably.
Bathgate did eventually get the goal their play deserved as the game moved towards the 60th minute. Jaconelli’s skilful footwork and cross from the left of the penalty area forced McWilliams to parry the ball behind.
Minnock’s arching ball from the resultant corner found the head of Nyang as both of last week’s goal scorers combined effectively to give the Jags a vital lead. The central defender managed to rise above everyone else and power home an emphatic header high into the net that lifted the men from West Lothian.
Young almost made it 2-0 with a powerful drive that was heading for the top corner but McWilliams demonstrated great agility to tip it over.
Though Nyang tried to put his side further ahead with two more headed attempts from corner kicks, Bathgate could not score a second to put the result beyond all doubt – and they were made to pay.
A floated cross in from the right evaded the majority of the Jags’ backline and found Cunning at the back post. Greenock’s left-back got goal-side of Minnock and was awarded a penalty after going down in the area due to a nudge in the back from the Bathgate winger.
Munro stepped up and sent McQuillan the wrong way with a confident strike to level the match and set up a nervy final 15 minutes.
Bathgate’s players and supporters’ hearts were in their mouths five minutes later when Greenock substitute Sean Doherty sent a thundering left-footed strike just narrowly wide of the top corner.
However, the away team had a chance of their own to clinch the tie right at the death. After coming on for Young, Richard Hutton was presented with the perfect opportunity to secure the victory for Bathgate in regular time when he was teed up by Jaconelli for a tap-in just yards from goal.
But somehow the forward managed to get his timing wrong and hit the post when it looked easier for him to score.
With the chance gone and heads in hands, the two sets of players were forced to go straight to a penalty shootout once the final whistle had sounded.
A fine save from McQuillan and successful spot-kicks from Baird, Jaconelli, Brady and Malone were enough to ensure the Jags made the trip back east happy knowing they were in the draw for the third round.
Bathgate will play a friendly match this coming Tuesday at the Creamery Park against Stoneyburn, match will kick off at 7:15pm.