Celtic 3-0 Greenock Morton

Obtaining tickets for all the matches we’ve been to hasn’t been a problem, aside from East Kilbride v Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale. The match on Sunday certainly didn’t pose any problems as only just under 15,000 turned out to watch a thoroughly boring 3-0 victory for Celtic. A week prior to this match I was in Krakow watching the local side Cracovia lose 2-1 in front of 8,600 supporters. Almost half the number who turned up to watch Celtic created a cracking atmosphere with the usual foreign ultras kicking the noise off.  One extreme to another brought me back to the reality of British football.

I have to admit that some of the excitement and passion for what I have been doing has diminished slightly. It was inevitable we would end up following one of the top clubs, but I had hoped to stay away from Celtic or Rangers as they are the two clubs on my doorstep who I have seen live a number of times. Hearts, Hibs or Aberdeen are the three biggest clubs I was keen to follow especially as I have yet to go to either of their grounds.

The real happiness and excitement we have had since starting this adventure last July was following the small clubs, notably Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale, and travelling far and wide to grounds I would never even have contemplated going to. Following smaller teams brings a closer connection to them. You get to know the players, the staff and management. Most of them work day jobs so you see first hand the amount of time and effort they put into running or playing for their clubs, and how much they love football. That was special to see.

As Celtic are the team we are now following, the aforementioned emotions have been lost as there is no connection to these players earning huge weekly salaries. I am not naive to think this wouldn’t of happened eventually, but one positive that has come from this is how much happiness I have had reflecting on where we have been and the people we have met up until now. The two trips to Montrose and Huntly were most definitely the highlights.

Our lack of enthusiasm for this match spilled over into our prior planning as we waited until the day of the game to purchase tickets. We queued up at the ticket office outside the ground and missed the first 5 minutes. Once inside, the match was like a training session for Celtic and after scoring 3 goals they sat back and played out the rest of the game. Morton offered pretty much nothing all match which was a disappointment. Even at 3-0 down and the game clearly beyond retrieval, most of the players were strolling around, giving Celtic lots of space and generally looking like beaten men. I hoped they would have at least taken the mindset that it can’t be any worse so let’s chase every ball down, run ourselves into the ground and give absolutely everything as it may be a while before they are in a Scottish Cup Quarter Final again. It didn’t happen and Celtic played out a comfortable 3-0 victory.

Now when I said the excitement had been lost somewhat, well it was most certainly alive and kicking after the semi-final draw was made. I now have the small matter of an Old Firm to try and find a ticket for. My chances are nigh on impossible, so I have planned to go to the Dundee United v Inverness/Hibs match to ensure I still attend a match in every round. Both matches are played at Hampden which is only 10 minutes away on the train for us, and tickets shouldn’t be a problem for that semi.

Here’s hoping I’ll be posting a blog on my time watching Rangers v Celtic in just under 6 weeks time.

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East Kilbride 0-2 Celtic

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Excelsior Stadium almost full with Celtic about to do ‘The Huddle’.

Better late than never is the theme here. The match was widely publicised in the press on the lead up to the game, and also televised on BBC Scotland such was the momentum occasion for everyone involved with East Kilbride Football Club. In short, Celtic were awful and East Kilbride did not embarrass themselves as many expected. I was surprised with how poor Celtic were in all honesty. There was clearly a lot of dissent in the stands towards the running of the club. Supporters in the away end unfurled a flag depicting the message “Sack The Board” before the match, making it clear how most fans feel about the direction the club are currently being taken.

The match was not a sell out, although it was not far off, so I was easily able to drive over to K-Park a few nights before the game and get two tickets for myself and my Dad. I wasn’t sure if my Dad would make it after a mammoth 24 hours travelling back from Thailand the day before, but the lure of a potential upset was too hard to turn down. A halftime coffee and pie was enough to get him through the jet lag and help with acclimatising from 30 degree Southeast Asian heat.

I had never actually been to Airdrie before despite living only 25 minutes away, but upon arrival I was aware why. There is nothing negative to say about the town, there just isn’t really anything there. The stadium is located next to a housing estate and local park, with the nearest pub around 15/20 minutes walk away and the same for the nearest train station. I was tempted to head to a pub near the ground before and soak up some of the pre-match excitement amongst the EK supporters, but due to the lack of places nearby we opted to drive.

On the walk to the ground the anticipation amongst East Kilbride supporters was evident with families and groups of friends in buoyant mood, some singing and some drinking. Regardless of the result they were here for a good time. As would be expected, the Celtic supporters turned up to support their team with the result pretty much a foregone conclusion. It reminded me of following United against lower league sides – there’s no real buzz about this, more a formality.

We were tucked up in the corner of the main stand and had a reasonably good view of the match. It’s a tidy little ground with stands on all four sides. I had expected a bit more of an atmosphere from the Celtic fans but it felt they turned up out of habit, as another match to chalk off in a long season.

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Gary Mackay-Steven sizing up a corner in the first half.

East Kilbride performed admirably. The 2-0 scoreline said more about Celtic. I was slightly disappointed East Kilbride didn’t get stuck in and try to aggravate the Celtic players a bit more. Once or twice we saw a few tasty challenges but the ref was keen to prevent that from happening. Considering the occasion for EK that was frustrating as I felt the ref should have let play unfold more, and let some of the harder challenges go.

The inevitable happened and Celtic went on into the Quarter Final against Greenock Morton.

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East Kilbride 2-0 Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale

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So it was that Wednesday night marked the end of our fantastic journey following LTHV. For four months we have followed Raymond Carr’s men across the country, as they battled against the odds to be in the hat for the Quarter Finals. A quite remarkable achievement. Myself and my Dad have loved every second of it. We have witnessed last gasp goals, replays, extra time wins and giant killings. Just to emphasise the kindness of everyone involved at LTHV, Tom Allison who is the chairman and founder of the club put two tickets aside for myself and my Dad on Wednesday. The match was an all ticket affair and a sell out. As we were unable to get to either East Kilbride or Edinburgh to purchase tickets, Tom had no hesitation in helping us out when I asked the question. So I feel there is no more appropriate place to start than with a heartfelt Thank You to the players, staff and everyone involved at Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale. It’s been a pleasure watching the team and we wish you all the best for the future.

As if the match didn’t have enough spice to it with the potential of a last 16 tie against Celtic for the winners, news spread a couple of hours before kick off that Hutchie were without a recognised goalkeeper. Kevin Swain agonisingly broke his arm at the weekend, and backup keeper Byron Gibb was ruled out with a virus. Rumour had it that Fraser Ogilvie, the clubs player/coach would be between the posts. However contrary to this news that was spreading like wildfire across social media, Gibb managed to make himself well enough to play. Looking very slight in goal I feared his youthful inexperience would cost the team over 90 minutes. I was glad to be proved wrong as the young keeper performed very maturely under what must have been immense pressure on such a big occasion. He made some great saves and only once or twice was his callowness exposed.

I had been in London with work earlier in the day so it was actually quite welcomed to only be travelling 15 minutes up the road to East Kilbride. It’s somewhere I used to go regularly as a kid. Growing up in the southside of Glasgow, we would board the train from Clarkston on a Saturday morning and head over to the Dollan Aqua Baths for a shot on the inflatable obstacle course. Or on occasion over to the ice skating at EK Town Centre where we would eye up the girls from school, but be too embarrassed to go over and talk to them. I can happily report I overcame my fear of talking to the opposite sex as I grew up.

Myself and my Dad pitched up at the far end of the ground in amongst the small army of LTHV supporters. A bunch of young Hutchie lads were in competition with East Kilbride’s own vociferous nippers, as they created a bit of atmosphere at the intimate K-Park. If only LTHV had scored, as I was dreaming of pandemonium in the away end with bodies going everywhere. I might even have leapt over the barrier onto the pitch in a moment of madness. Alas, my pitch invasion will need to be saved for another day.IMG_1387

East Kilbride came flying out the traps and didn’t seem fazed by the occasion, catching LTHV off guard. ‘Kilby’s number 11 Anthony Brady showed terrific close control as he went on a solo run, jinking past about five players before being stopped by the last defender. EK’s speed and agility was evident in the opening 15 minutes. As with most LTHV matches I’ve watched, myself and my Dad feared they would be on the receiving end of a heavy defeat. The men from Edinburgh were under the cosh and hoofing clearances up the pitch for the first quarter of an hour. But we had learnt by this point not to write them off. Our positivity paid off and they worked their way back into the game after settling down and playing some good football. Around the half hour mark brought the best chance of the match up until that point, and a chance Willis Hare will no doubt be having sleepless nights over. Scott Gormley skipped past a defender and laid the ball off for Hare who crashed his shot against the crossbar. We have seen LTHV get in similar positions before and still go on to win, but unfortunately it didn’t continue on Wednesday night.

With LTHV slightly on top but the match becoming a bit scrappy, it seemed likely that both teams would into the break all square. However a loose pass was taken advantage of by Jack Smith, son of Andy who played in two Scottish Cup Finals for Airdrie, and a terrific half-volley sailed into the bottom corner. Had Kevin Swain been in net I still don’t think it would have changed anything, Smith’s shot was too powerful and accurate.

Half time consisted of moving about to keep as warm as possible. Zero degree temperatures made it a cold January night in East Kilbride. After a quick scroll of Twitter I learnt that Gordon Strachan, Barry Ferguson, Ally McCoist and Leigh Griffiths were all in attendance. Further evidence of how this match had grabbed the attention of football fans across the country.

Much like the remainder of the first half, the second 45 minutes were fairly even. Anthony Brady once again went on a mazy run through the Lothian defenders, only for Smith to drag his shot wide. As the match ticked on LTHV committed more men forward in search of an equaliser and Willis Hare (still referred to as Gareth Bale by Hutchie supporters around me) almost pulled them level. The EK keeper produced a great save to tip the ball round the post. Then with only 4 or 5 minutes to go ‘Kilby sealed the win after LTHV’s reserve keeper spilled a corner, allowing Sean Winter to push the ball home.

On the whole I don’t feel the 2-0 scoreline was a good reflection of the match. LTHV matched them every step of the way and had two great chances to score. East Kilbride were more clinical when it mattered which is why they find themselves in dreamland, and looking forward to a tie against a club called Celtic … never heard of them.

It has been confirmed the match will be played at Hamilton’s New Douglas Park on 7th February which holds just over 6,000 – in comparison to K-Park’s 500 capacity. It’s an unbelievable time for East Kilbride and a huge payday which will set the club up for a number of years. Demand for tickets will be exceptionally high, so I hope my Dad and I manage to snap up two and share in watching the biggest match of East Kilbride’s history.

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REPLAY: Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale 3-0 Huntly

I didn’t manage to make it to this match, there’s something about myself and replays which don’t seem to get on. Do you remember the weekend of the terrible flooding in Cumbria? I do. It just so happened to be the weekend I had arranged to go and stay with my mate who lives in Cumbria.

I left Glasgow around 7am and didn’t meet my mates until almost 3pm. My train got as far as just past Penrith when it was turned back due to the rail track being submerged and landslides. The amount of cars bobbing around the water was not something I usually see. The next day felt like an apocalypse. The roads were eerily quiet and there were cars abandoned all over the place, dead animals and debris scattered everywhere. I didn’t get back to Glasgow until the night of the match and was too shattered to head up to Edinburgh. I’ve still maintained my aim of getting to a match in every round however, so not to worry.

It’s a short drive up to East Kilbride on Saturday for the 4th round which should be a cracking match.

However if you have a spare couple of minutes have a watch of the highlights below, and enjoy the first goal as much as I did.

 

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Huntly 1-1 Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale

Whilst planning my travel to Huntly earlier in the week, I became curious as to how the Highland League club have been doing this season and the chances of LTHV entering 4th Round territory. That would have been unthinkable when I watched them play their first match against Girvan. Not because they played badly, but due to their lower league status and the sub-conscious acknowledgement that they would be ‘found out’ against higher league opposition. Before I even got to Huntly’s latest results, the front page of their website announced the resignation of the now former manager. Personal reasons were cited which is never nice to read. However the results have not been good either. Huntly have not won in the league since October 3rd, with their only win since coming against East Stirlingshire in the Cup. They’ve suffered some heavy defeats in the past five matches, so I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about LTHV’s chances. In all competitions this season, LTHV have only drawn twice and lost once. An outstanding achievement so far. This only backs up everything I have written about the team to this point, and further endorsing their reputation as a very good footballing side.

I also unearthed some new insight into LTHV’s history the night before we embarked on our 14 hour round trip. I read a cracking article on the Scottish FA website about the clubs youth academy – known as ‘Hutchie’ – and the plethora of now famous players who have passed through. John Collins, Gary Caldwell, Kenny Miller, Steven Whittaker, Allan McGregor, Jason Cummings, Sam Nicholson and Leigh Griffiths are a few. A number of the aforementioned have also played in the so called ‘best league in the world’, England’s very own Premier League. It now didn’t seem so strange to see a lower league side in LTHV play such good football, and conduct themselves so well on and off the pitch.

The LTHV team went up the night before, but myself and my Dad’s day started with a 6.30am alarm and a 7.30am train into town. From there we filled ourselves with coffee and a roll & sausage, before catching the 8.40am train to Aberdeen. It was around 1pm by the time we arrived into Huntly so we had a look around to get a feel for the town, whilst looking for places to grab some lunch.

I got a good feel about the place with its traditional cottages, town square and historic castle. The town was pretty sleepy with most shops closed for the weekend – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Glasgow city centre on a Saturday afternoon. I even remarked to my Dad that I can see why people go to church on a Sunday in small towns like Huntly (population less than 5,000). I would imagine there to be a good community spirit about the place. After walking around for 10/15 minutes it was agreed a pint was top priority so we found ourselves in The Royal Oak. Just after sitting down to our first pint we were treated to some really good live music by someone called Chris Grant. He even tried to enlist us as the two newest supporters of his beloved Keith FC, who are only a short 15 minute drive from Huntly. We decided to stick to MUFC, but firstly LTHV.

I had previously been in touch with the club to enquire if they could put a small article in their match day programme for me, to advertise my blog and what I’m doing. Unfortunately all the space had been taken up with advertising or previously agreed content. However Alix, who I had been corresponding with at the club, very kindly put a post on their Facebook page which was a nice touch and something to put a smile on our faces. I think this has been my biggest bout of small-time fame to date; so cheers Alix.Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 15.03.26

After a few pints we marched off to the ground which was only 5 minutes away, in search of a warm pie and some Cup football. Everything is so affordable at this level, with entry being £8 and a couple of pies and warm drinks costing less than a fiver. The ground itself was tidy and intimate. However the pitch wasn’t in the best condition with a slight slope up towards the dugout area, and the surface being full of bobbles (technical term).

 

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Myself and my Dad looking on in the 1st half. Picture is courtesy of Huntly Football Club’s official website

We started off standing across from the main stand, amongst the ‘hardcore’ support. Just like previous matches LTHV’s number 11 never fails to get stick for his likeness to Gareth Bale. He’s also a good footballer, and it’s been said you tend to get more abuse when the opposition supporters recognise your talents. However it was Huntly’s number 9 who scored the first goal, with a fortunate bounce off the uneven turf taking the ball away from it’s natural path and past the keeper. It was evident that LTHV were struggling to get used to the pitch and unable to play their usual passing game, with the ball bouncing up every time they tried to gain some possession and control on the match. The first 45 minutes were in Huntly’s favour as their high pressing and tempo game unsettled the lads from Edinburgh. They had a few chances to extend their lead before the break, and I feared they would do just that and soak everything up in the second half. Thankfully it stayed 1-0 to set it up for an exciting second half.

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My Dad and I thought this could finally be the end of our run watching Hutchie. I should have learnt already not to doubt them. On Saturday we saw a different side to the team we have watched the past few matches. They dug in ground out a draw which never looked likely until Scott Gormley equalised with 20 minutes to go. LTHV broke through the defence and the ball was squared for a simple tap-in. They had to adapt to the different conditions and physicality of their opponents. Hustle’s style of play isn’t as kind on the eye as that of LTHV’s – in my opinion. They used their experience well and seemed to ruffle the feathers of LTHV, especially in the first 45 minutes. That said, this is the first time I have seen the men from Aberdeenshire play, so I remain optimistic that there would be more to come if they are to win the replay. On this occasion they seemed more akin to a strong, physical side who like to play on the counter. Regardless of this they are still in the Cup and have  an equal chance of progressing when they make the trip to Edinburgh this weekend.

Just before the ref blew to signal confirmation of a replay, LTHV’s number 6 (apologies as I can’t remember his name) was sent off for a second bookable offence. As he ran into the box the Huntly defender shouldered him off the ball, but the referee deemed it a dive and gave him his second yellow. The highlights are actually on the BBC website. If you watch it you don’t need your glasses to see that it was most definitely not a dive. I hope the club appeal the decision as it’s extremely unjust for him to miss the replay. If the ref was to blow for anything, it should have been a penalty. We’ve all seen penalties given for much less.

Nonetheless it finished 1-1 and the draw was made this afternoon. The winner of Saturday’s replay has been awarded an away tie against Stenhousemuir or East Kilbride. I would prefer a trip to ‘Stenny’ as East Kilbride is only up the road from me, and somewhere I have been many times growing up. Seeing new towns/cities and grounds was a big motivation for doing this, and Stenhousemuir not somewhere I can envisage myself going in the near future.IMG_1119

This Saturday at 3pm is the replay at Saughton Enclosure. I had already pre-arranged to meet up with some mates this weekend, so I’m not yet sure if I’ll make it along. Perhaps I’ll get them up north and we can all enjoy the match. Either way, I’ll be keeping up to date with the score over the course of the afternoon. I hope both teams, especially LTHV, play with less trepidation, and a great end to end cup tie is played out. I doubt you’ll hear either team echoing my comments though.

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REPLAY: Montrose 1-2 Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale (a.e.t)

View from the terrace as we entered the ground.

View from the ‘West Terrace’ as we entered the ground.

Fantastic was the word my Dad and I said to each other when the final whistle blew last Tuesday night. I feel like I’m becoming a broken record when I talk about LTHV. Once again they played football the right way and thoroughly deserved to go through over the two matches. This much was confirmed by the frustrated Montrose supporters sat around me. The men from Edinburgh were composed, unfazed, professional and exciting to watch. Time and again the ball was played out from the back. The movement was excellent, the passing was precise and you would never have known the teams were a few leagues apart.

We left in plenty of time after learning from past mistakes, and arrived in Montrose around 6.15pm. This was also the day the country was enveloped by thick fog so the drive up was fairly tense, not being able to see more than 10 yards in front or to the side. I had been having a look earlier that day for places to eat and found what looked like a nice Australian themed meat bar. Upon arriving however it seemed a tad more fancy than we had wanted, so we opted for a good old fish supper from the chippy instead. This was quickly polished off in the car and we drove over to the ground. On our way to the ground we went through the centre of Montrose which looked like it would be a nice little town on a good day. Perhaps slightly narrow-mindedly I didn’t have high expectations but I got the feeling there was a bit of a charm to the place. The thick fog and dark night sky gave it a gothic feel.

We parked about 50 yards from the ground and once inside walked around to the main stand. We climbed to the back and had a cracking view of the pitch. A small army of LTHV supporters were to our right, consisting mainly of family and friends I think. We sat ourselves down near the three or four media reporters to watch the action. As the match went on the small legion of young lads clad in retro gear and banging their drum were making a constant din around the ground. It was as though LTHV were entranced by this constant beating of the drum, and tirelessly went about their work. Soaking up any Montrose attacks and then diligently going about their attacks.

A curling left footed finish from inside the 18 yard box put LTHV 1-0 up, before Montrose equalised with a long range drive into the bottom corner. In the dying moments of the match Montrose had a clear chance to win it but a point blank shot was saved well by the keepers feet. In typical LTHV fashion they went straight up the pitch and almost won it themselves. Two or three clear chances were blocked on the line and the match ticked over into extra time.

The triumphant LTHV players head off down the tunnel to continue the celebrations.

The triumphant LTHV players head off down the tunnel to continue the celebrations.

Willis Hare, LTHV’s impact sub who caused problems when he came on near the end of the previous match, once again ran the Montrose defence ragged. Looking very Gareth Bale-esque with his ponytail and beard, he picked the ball up just inside the Montrose half and went on a mazy run before firing in via a deflection. Pandemonium on the LTHV bench and in the stands from friends, family and players. Myself and my Dad let out a cheer but were conscious not to aggravate the Montrose supporters behind us who were on the verge of dishing out some slaps to their own team – such was their growing anger at their inability to threaten their lower league opposition.

There were some great scenes at the end as the LTHV team hugged each other in delirium. Special mention also for the players mocking of the Montrose supporters ‘Ultras’ chants.

So it is Huntly away in the next round and a 4 hour drive up to Aberdeenshire. So far the Cup has delivered in giving me trips to towns I have never been to before, and let me watch some cracking football. Who needs to pay £50 upwards to see some of the wealthiest men in the country play football? Not me anyway.

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Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale 1-1 Montrose

On our way to the burger van.

On our way to the burger van.

So let’s get the important matters out the way first, yesterday heralded the return of the much revered burger van. Just before half time my Dad and I sauntered round the pitch to warm ourselves up with the delights of a burger, a hotdog, a cup of tea and a coffee. All for a paltry £6.50. Tremendous. There was also no hangover this time so it tasted even better.

So back to the day itself and my trips north of Glasgow seem to be fraught with delays when watching football and yesterday carried on from a couple of weeks ago. The recently built Cineworld at Glasgow Silverburn has increased traffic fourfold, so an extra 10 minutes was added onto the journey not long after leaving the house yesterday afternoon. Long tailbacks of cars looking to spend their pay packet in the shops or on popcorn ensued, as I was eagerly trying to make my way to Edinburgh to see how the lads in yellow and black would do against their glamorous opponents. Once we passed Silverburn things opened up on the road and unfortunately in the skies as heavy rain came down, only for my windscreen wiper to conveniently dislodge itself. Five further minutes of driving in a downpour was an unexpected challenge with no wiper and we had to pull into town to pop it back in. Off we finally went again only to be brought to a standstill ten minutes from the Bypass. We frustratingly didn’t get to the ground until around 7/8 minutes into the first half. However the match was still goalless and not long after paying a very worthwhile £8 (£3 extra than the last round I should add, daylight robbery … joke) Montrose took a 1-0 lead. Myself and my Dad turned to each other and expressed our worry that LTHV were going to end up on the end of a right thumping.

The red carpet was rolled out in the half time hospitality tent.

The red carpet was rolled out in the half time hospitality tent. I’m sure unintentionally but I can’t help but see a resemblance to the Klu Klux Klan.

A couple of young lads clad in Ellesse (it’s made a cool comeback didn’t you know?), Adidas trainers and Stone Island looking like they had earlier in the day been for auditions as extras in a new hooligan film, were making a faint nose at the far end of the ground. With the help of their trusty drum, ten to fifteen of them reminded everyone of their hatred of Arbroath and that they do indeed play in royal blue contrary to their away kit selection today.

However much to our surprise and enjoyment, Montrose early pressure was almost non existent for the remainder of the match. LTHV equalised around ten minutes before half time with the second headed goal of the game. I have to say that once again the home team played brilliantly this afternoon. They were an absolute credit to their club. It is so refreshing to watch a lower league side try to play football on the deck rather than thumping it up the pitch with no clear idea what they’re doing. Time and again there were some lovely interchanges between the players, and you would never have known there was such a gap between the two teams. LTHV matched them every step of the way.

As the game ticked on into the closing stages LTHV had two brilliant chances to knock Montrose out but perhaps the heat of the moment got the better of them, and the chances were squandered. A Montrose fan walking out of the ground after the match summed up their performance whilst he was on the phone to a friend/relative – “That’s the match finished, we were shite”. Succinctly put. Montrose display did indeed stink the place out as it was clearly an off day for them. A quick check at the table and you will find The Gable Endies sitting 4th in the play-off places of League Two so today must have been a bad day at the office, combined with LTHV being extremely well organised and up for the battle. It may also be that their recent 3-1 loss away to rivals Arbroath had an affect.

The LTHV bench anxiously look on.

The LTHV bench anxiously look on.

LTHV were the lowest ranked side left in the competition going into yesterday’s match so I was acutely aware just how tough it might be for them. You would never have known it. I have however got my wish to get to a new ground in this round with the replay at Links Park on Tuesday 3rd November. A two and a half hour drive from Glasgow to see the two teams again under floodlights this time. There’s always been something special about watching football under the lights.

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