The days of me traipsing around the lower league grounds of Scotland writing match reports for Stirling Albion are over. However, I always said that for special, one-off, occasions I might dain to put pencil to notepad again. When Stirling were drawn away to Scottish Junior Cup holders, Hurlford, in the third round of the 2014/15 senior version, that was deemed occasion enough to come out retirement. So, enough of the waffle, onto the game. Thanks to digital photography I don’t need to list the two teams by hand – the pic to the left gives you all you need to know. In truth not the most inspiring Albion XI of all time, and it seems the caretaker management have decided to change very little while at the helm. Some familiar names in the Hurlford line-up with Neil McGregor, Steve Masterton and Stewart Kean the most notable. Perhaps all three are past their prime, but plenty of experience to call on none-the-less.
The match kicked off on the sloping Blair Park pitch with a cold wind blowing from the clubhouse end of the ground. The pitch actually sloped from side to side, as well as down towards both goals – that apart it was a decent enough surface for a game of football. The first attack in anger came when Hurlford’s Paul McKenzie drifted a deep cross behind for a goal kick. Up the other end, James Creaney had a similar effort, which this time required home keeper Ally Brown to clutch the ball under no real pressure. Brown then reacted well to flop onto a quick turn and shot by Gordon Smith from the edge of the box. A long distance free-kick was then chipped in by Dale Fulton towards Craig Wedderburn, only for the gangling defender to steer his header wide of target.
Hurlford’s first serious attempt at Calum Reidford’s goal saw them take a shock (?) lead. A 20 yarder from Stevie Masterton was blocked and on the follow-up STEWART KEAN cracked the ball into the roof of the net. The home fans in the crowd of 551 were delighted, and they nearly had a second to cheer as Masteron tugged a shot just wide. Has to be said the Beanos were falling off tackle after tackle as the Ayrshire Juniors looked to take a firm control on proceedings. A rare foray upfield by Graham Weir saw his cross met by Steven Doris, and his deflected strike had to be turned past by Ally Brown. The resulting corner reached Gordon Smith whose header landed on the roof of the net.
As the half wore on it was Hurlford who became stronger, as the Beanos struggled to string any passes together. A cross into the visitors box was met by scorer, Stewart Kean, and his scuffed header looked netbound until Callum Reidford clawed it out at the last second. A long punt from inside their own half was then skimmed just wide of target via the head of Chris Robertson. It wasn’t going to plan for Darren Smith’s charges, and yellows apiece for full-backs Lee Hamilton and Ross Forsyth didn’t help matters. The game could have been almost beyond the hapless Beanos, but thankfully Kean headed over from a Gus Cochrane centre when a goal seemed certain. Stirling’s interesting strategy for defending corners appeared to be to let the Hurlford player win the ball and put it wide or over. This was further emphasised when another set-piece delivery was met by an unmarked Hurlford head as Kean bulleted one past Reidford’s right-hand post.
The last few minutes of the opening 45 were as good as it had been for Stirling. David McClune saw an ambitious dig deflect harmlessly into the gloves of Ally Brown. A shy then broke into the path of Dale Fulton, and another deflected effort required Brown to get down low to tip the ball behind. From the next corner Chris Smith headed high and wide. Nothing too subtle from the Beanos at this stage. But from one long ball the rarely described, Steven Doris, sclaffed an angled strike tamely at Brown.
This was about all she wrote for the period of time known to some football watchers as ‘the opening 45’. Therefore as the teams trooped off for the half-time Creamola Foam and Cheesy Wotsits it was the hosts who maintained a deserved advantage.
Half-Time: Hurlford United 1 Stirling Albion 0
Just one change at the oft lamented ‘lemons’, and amazingly it wasn’t an Albion one. Instead, injury forced Neil McGregor to be replaced by Ross Robertson. This switch led to Ross’s namesake, Chris, moving from up front, back into defence. Ross Robertson was soon in the action as a foul on the Hurlford sub saw Craig Wedderburn shown yellow. The wind had if anything picked up during the break. This allied to Hurlford seeming to run out of steam and the Beanos remaining absolutely clueless meant play became very bitty. In fact the next few entries in my notes are all subs and bookings! James Creaney and Lee Hamilton both made way fairly quickly as Phil Johnston and Ross McGeachie took their places. United withdrew the knackered looking Stevie Masterton with Jamie Wilson coming on. Stirling sub, Ross McGeachie became the next visiting player to earn yellow from Alan Newlands.
When a chance eventually came in the second half it was a huge moment in the game. A corner was swung in from the Albion left and the unmarked Glen Mitchell headed a foot wide of Reidford’s right-hand post, from almost point-blank range. A terrible miss when the net seemed set to bulge. Stirling’s response was a weak shot from Phil Johnston which sailed into the gardens behind the ground. The home side then made their third, and last substitution, as Paul McKenzie was hooked in favour of Martyn Brown. Another player was soon heading off the pitch, although on this particular occasion there wasn’t one replacing him i.e. Craig Wedderburn was sent off for receiving a second yellow following a clumsy foul on Ross Robertson. From the free kick, Gus Cochrane’s dipping effort was alertly palmed behind by Callum Reidford.
A goal, and a man, down and creating next to nothing, our hopes appeared bleak. Yet, the Hurlford vuvuzela was stunned into momentary silence as out of nothing their favourites were pegged back. A Dale Fulton corner, from the Stirling right, was swung to the back post from where CHRIS SMITH poked a header just inside Ally Brown’s left hand upright. Couldn’t exactly say it had been coming, but in truth United hadn’t really made capital on Stirling being down to 10. After a brief wobble Darren Henderson’s men pushed forward once again. Gus Cochrane picked out the Stewart Kean in acres of space, but the former Ayr striker’s low shot skimmed across goal without any takers. Ross Robertson then set up Kean for another attempt, a header over from six yards out.
Time was almost up. The final moments saw Hurlford pen Stirling back with a succession of corners. In amongst them Dale Fulton was carded for what was likely persistent fouling. Despite plenty of balls into the Albion box the junior cup holder’s were unable to fashion a last-gasp winner. So as Alan Newlands blew for time the match ended all square with the replay set for Forthbank next weekend. In summary I’d say we’ll probably never play as badly as that again and not lose – we were dreadful, and any new manager has his work cut out. For their part Hurlford will be disappointed not to win, but if you don’t take your chances that’s what happens. However, it’s not all over. Any Albion fan expecting an easy ride in the replay will likely be in for a rude awakening.
Ah well, I enjoyed being back. Keep yer eyes peeled and one day down the road I might just enjoy being back again.
Thanks for reading, and Up the Beanos!