Saints are still in the Scottish Cup – but only just

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A penalty with two minutes to go on the clock saved Saints’ Scottish Amateur Cup hopes.

The game looked like slipping away from the D&K Lafferty-sponsored Oban outfit until James Ford was unceremoniously scythed down in the box.

Lewis Cameron stepped up to take the pressure spot kick and calmly drilled the ball home past Rothie keeper Lewis Milne to level the scores at 1-1.

Saints keeper Graham ‘Sugar’ Douglas was the hero at the other end when he saved a 71st-minute penalty to save his team from going 2-0 down.

It meant an early start for the Oban outfit last Saturday as they made the 350-mile round trip – an eight-hour drive – to and from Rothienorman in rural Aberdeenshire.

Saints arrived to find an excellent playing surface at the Rothienorman park.

Rothie are in good form this season, not having lost a game, so the Oban side knew they were in for a tough match and this is this is exactly what they got.

To reach the fifth round Rothie had defeated Aberdeen Division One (North) side BS Amateurs 5-3 in the first round followed by a narrow 3-2 win against Stirling and District outfit Syngenta. Round three saw them defeat Midlands AFA team Newport and then an impressive 1-0 win over top Caledonian side Dalziel HSFP. All these games were played away from home.

Saints’ journey to the fifth round started with a good 3-2 away win in round one over Gartcosh United, followed by and even better 9-1 home victory over Perth outfit St Johns in the second round. A trip to Forfar in round three was on the cards for Saints and they returned with an impressive 3-1 win under their belts. Round four saw them drawn away to East Kilbrie Thistle but the East Kilbride side had to forfeit home advantage as their park failed two Saturday pitch inspections with Saints winning the re-arranged game at Glencruitten 5-1.

Surprisingly, Saints co-manager Donald Campbell left himself out of the starting 11 for Saturday’s match to take a place on the bench alongside Matty Kelly, Ruaridh Horne, Dougal Graham and Fraser MacFarlane

The Saints line-up was Graham Douglas between the sticks, behind a back four of Jamie Graham, Dene Cassells, Steven MacLeod and Scott Maitland. Willie Gemmell and Daniel Croarkin took on the midfield holding postitions with Lewis Cameron playing just behind James Ford, Craig MacEwan and David Beaton.

The visitors started reasonably well, knocking the ball about confidently, but the home side looked dangerous on the break, hitting long balls forward for the energetic Sean Bremner, who was getting backed up by the eager Keith Walker and Jake Stewart from midfield.

Saints created the first chance of the match when James Ford raced clear up the right flank and cut the ball back for Craig MacEwan but referee Graeme Bowman from Dundee ruled MacEwan offside in a very tight decision.

An uncharacteristic mistake from the reliable Steven MacLeod allowed Ryan Walker a clean run through on goal but the Rothie striker failed to hit the target.

Both teams were going at it hammer and tongs with no quarter being asked or given.

The Oban side were awarded a free kick just outside the 18-yard box in the 21st minute with Willie Gemmell drawing a superb save from the Rothie keeper.

At the other end, another slack piece of play from the Saints defence allowed Sean Bremner a clear run in on goal but a superb last-ditch tackle from Jamie Graham denied the Rovers front man.

The game was flowing from end to end and was turning into an excellent cup tie for the large crowd of spectators.

However, the 100-mile-an-hour football doesn’t suit Saints and they were getting hustled off the ball in the last third of the pitch by a well-drilled Rothie outfit.

James Ford and Lewis Cameron then combined to set up Craig MacEwan, but Craig was crowded out by the Rothie defence before he could get his shot away.

The home side created a couple of half chances before the interval but these were skied over the bar.

The dressing room talk at half-time didn’t make for easy listening for the Saints players as Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell were not happy with the performance and they were told in no uncertain manner to up their game or they would be out the cup.

The home side started the second half on the front foot and had Saints pinned back with only some poor finishing and good defending denying the Aberdeenshire side from taking the lead.

Rovers broke the deadlock in the 55th minute when a long punt up the park caught the Saints defence appealing for offside but Jake Stewart was allowed to play on by the referee and although Graham Douglas saved Stewart’s original effort, the ball spun back to the Rothie striker who bundled it home.

Despite the Rothie striker looking at least two yards offside, referee Graeme Bowman allowed the goal to stand.

At this point Saints made a double substitution with Donald Campbell and Matty Kelly replacing Daniel Croar-kin and David Beaton. This move seemed to give Saints a better balance as they battled back into the game.

The Oban side had a great chance to equalise in the 59th minute when Craig MacEwan had a free header in the box from a Lewis Cameron corner but his effort flew past the post.

Worse was to come for the Oban side in the 71st minute when Steven MacLeod handled a cross from Jack Brown in the box, leaving referee Bowman an easy decision to point to the spot.

Rothie’s top scorer Jake Stewart was entrusted with the penalty kick but Graham Douglas made a brilliant diving save to keep his team in the match.

Had this spot kick gone in, Saints’ Scottish Cup adventure would surely have been over.

This let-off seemed to galvanise the Oban side as they took the game to Rovers and created two good chances through Craig MacEwan and Donald Campbell but these were both missed.

The visitors took off Jamie Graham, replacing him with Ruaridh Horne for the last 15 minutes with the youngster getting forward at every opportunity.

Saints were in command as the clock ran down, but the home side always looked a threat on the break.

Dene Cassells was pushed up front with five minutes remaining in an effort to get that all-important equaliser and he had a great chance but shot wide of the target.

With only two minutes left on the clock, Saints were awarded a penalty when James Ford was scythed down in the box. Lewis Cameron stepped up and slotted the ball home to make the score 1-1.

Referee Bowman played six minutes of added time before blowing the final whistle.

Saints were obviously the happier of the two sides at the final whistle as they could quite easily have gone out the cup. Credit should go to the players, though, for their battling display in the last 20 minutes which earned the replay.

However, co-managers Donald Campbell and Willie Gemmell were not happy with the overall performance and changes could be on the cards for this Saturday’s replay.

They said: ‘We are lucky to still be in the cup. We never worked hard enough and gave the ball away far too often. Rothie aren’t the greatest of teams but they are a hard-working oufit and unless we match their work rate then we will be in trouble.

‘We had a number of good chances but these were missed. We need to be more clinical in front of goal.

‘In saying that, it was a long journey and it must have had an effect on the players, so this weekend Rothie will have to endure that, so we can have no excuses.

‘We are the better footballing team but we need to go out and prove that on Saturday. If we play the way we can we’re sure we can reach the last 16 of the national cup competition.’

The Oban side would like to thank Allan Hill and John Horne for making the long trip to support the team as well as Obanite John Boyd who has been in Aberdeen for the past 42 years but hasn’t forgotten where his loyalty lies.

Saints will be looking for a big turnout of supporters for the replay match which will be played at Glencruitten on Saturday with a 1.30pm kick-off.  The man in the middle is top Caledonian League referee Ross Holms.

The winners have been drawn away to Alba Thistle in the last 16. This tie is scheduled for Saturday February 2.