By Jonathon Reilly
Bathgate Thistle battled back from two goals down to earn a hard-fought 2-2 draw and a second round replay with Greenock Juniors in the Scottish Junior Cup.
After some slack defending allowed the away side to storm into an early two-goal lead, second half strikes from Rhys Minnock and Hassan Nyang ensured the Jags will have another shot at progressing into the third round in this coming Saturday’s reverse fixture at Ravenscraig Stadium.
The opening stages of the match saw plenty of effort and steely determination from both sets of players with Minnock fouling Paul Scott before Greenock’s Allan Docherty was penalised for a reckless challenge on Nyang which forced the central defender to temporarily leave the field of play.
It was Greenock who fashioned the more promising chances in the early exchanges with David McNeil forcing Gavin McQuillan into a fine save at his near post after drifting his way down the left flank.
Kenneth Munro then went close for the visitors as he turned inside but he could only hook his left-footed effort just wide.
Bathgate almost opened the scoring on eighteen minutes when Gordon Harris played through Stuart McLeod inside the box, only for the striker to whip his shot narrowly wide of the far post.
But less than sixty seconds later the Creamery Park outfit found themselves a goal behind as Munro was given time and space in the penalty area to calmly slot past the onrushing McQuillan.
Only six minutes had passed when Greenock doubled their advantage through McNeil. The wide man stole possession from Grant MacDonald just yards from goal before stroking the ball beyond a helpless McQuillan with his left foot.
In a moment of bizarreness, the Jags’ keeper then almost brought his side back into the match on the half-hour mark as his long ball up field sailed over Greenock’s defence and came close to catching his counterpart Ryan McWilliams off guard.
MacDonald’s speculative attempt from distance was the last piece of meaningful action in what was a disappointing first-half for Bathgate.
The half-time interval proved important as the Jags managed to up the tempo and pull a goal back inside four minutes of the restart.
McLeod was able to find his strike partner Bryan Jaconelli with a clever through ball before the latter saw his driven effort parried away by McWilliams, only for the ball to sit up kindly for Minnock who did well to loop his finish into the net.
Bathgate were almost level just moments later but McLeod could only shoot wide after wriggling his way past three men.
The striker then led his side on the breakaway in search of an equaliser and swept a pass out to Minnock on the right. After working his way down the line the winger dragged his shot just wide of the far post.
Sensing a shift in momentum, the Greenock backline began to grow tetchy and Bathgate’s equaliser duly arrived with twenty-five minutes remaining.
Graham Baird’s low cross from the left was spilled by McWilliams and Nyang was on hand for a tap-in which levelled the tie.
Bathgate were not content to settle for the draw and went on the offensive. As the game wore on both McLeod and Jaconelli tried to find the elusive winner with decent efforts which flew just wide of the Greenock goal.
Harris must have thought he had propelled his side into the next round in the dying stages when his deft spin in the six-yard box gave him the time to sweep an effort towards goal but somehow McWilliams managed to save as Greenock held on until the final whistle.