City go down fighting

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St Johnstone 1 Brechin City 0

BRECHIN City finally bowed out of the Carling Scottish Cup at the quarter final stage last Tuesday evening.

It was a privilege to be amongst almost 1000 Brechiners who had travelled to support the team as they attempted to overcome a side with a home record that is none too shabby even by SPL standards.

While Brechin failed to make it to their first ever Hampden semi-final in this competition, it wasn’t without a fight.

Being cynical, the man who had made so many great decisions in the first game at Glebe Park, referee Steve Conroy, including one to allow the game to go ahead in the first place, wasn’t as forthcoming when it came to giving City a decision or two at Perth.

Gerry McLauchlan made it back into the side for City, as did Kevin Byers. There was also Perth’s most photographed ex-Saint Charlie King, back on the Brechin bench for the first time since breaking his ankle, in what must prove to be a real pick-me-up for his team mates and fans alike in City’s promotion quest.

St Johnstone undoubtedly enjoyed the better start, with Colin Samuel firing a volley off target and Liam Craig toe-poking past from close range following a Murray Davidson ball into the box.

Brechin’s back four suffered a real blow with the loss of Paul McLean with a hamstring injury after just 11 minutes, with the full-back being replaced by David White, who himself had made way for Gerry McLauchlan in the original 11 who started the game. Davie White came into the right back berth.

Goalkeeper Craig Nelson then threw his 39-year-old frame full length to turn wide a low 16-yard volley from former Kilmarnock striker, Danny Invincibile, who had headed Saints in front in the first game.

Brechin struggled to get possession in meaningful areas of he park in the first period.

However, they were almost gifted a glorious opportunity by Saints defender Steven Anderson who stumbled and, when a pass from David McKenna sent Rory McAllister clear, the striker being watched by several SPL clubs on the night, hurriedly sliced high and wide from the edge of the area.

Rory had to contend with the ball bobbing in front of him and never looking really steady to conclude a strike at goal cleanly.

Danny Invincibile replied with another volley that whizzed past the upright by a couple of feet from around 14 yards out.

Brechin again went close to taking the lead in an opening created by the determination of Craig Molloy, who must have impressed some of the assembled SPL bosses with his display.

Molloy’s shot from just inside the box was charged down into the path of Gary Fusco and his low drive from the edge of the box forced Peter Enckelman into a superb, one-handed parry to turn the ball away from the far post.

St Johnstone made the breakthrough in the 37th minute thanks to the willingness of Samuel and an unlucky break of the ball for Gerry McLauchlan.

The big City defender got in a good challenge it appeared, but the ball spun back wickedly into the path of the Saints’ striker, who drove the ball across Craig Nelson into the corner of the net.

McLauchlan then survived a penalty claim when the defender’s arm saw Samuel go down in a heap as he stumbled inside the box.

Former Rangers striker Peter MacDonald headed a few feet over following the first Saints raid of the second period.

However, Brechin were to enjoy more of the ball in the second half, without really managing to get it into areas that could hurt the home side.

Nelson produced another good reaction save on the line from a close-range strike from Samuel, who followed up into the side netting, although the striker was ruled offside.

Then, as the Sky TV cameras proved, City were dealt a cruel blow after referee Conroy harshly judged that McAllister had fouled Anderson. Craig Molloy struck a magnificent drive from the edge of the box over the head of Enckelman, but the whistle had already gone for the ‘foul’ by McAllister.

Brechin continued to do everything possible to prevent a second goal being conceded.

Craig Nelson parried clear a dangerous Invincibile cross, Samuel being unable to connect with the loose ball and Chris Millar’s goal-bound drive being blocked diligently by the alert McLauchlan.

Millar sent a drive just wide of the post and the unmarked MacDonald fired high over the bar from 15 yards, as Brechin refused to throw in the towel.

However, the biggest enemy now was the clock and, despite the introduction of both Daniel McKay and Mark Archdeacon, two further strikers who replaced midfield players in the shape of Byers and Fusco, albeit in deeper roles, City’s cup run was almost over.

The reaction of the 984 City fans at the end of the game, however, said much of their side’s performance.

While at times they lacked a creative spark and the ability to retain possession for lengthy periods, what couldn’t be questioned was City’s commitment and endeavour.

There were few who didn’t give their all in a red shirt. The pick of the Brechin side was Craig Molloy, who rarely lost a tackle and, despite being surrounded by full-time opponents, was the one member of the City midfield who looked capable of joining his strikers and finding the net.

Brechin’s cup run is over, but their manager will be hoping for they same grit and determination, which would surely stand his side in good stead in their remaining league fixtures.

St Johnstone - Enckelman, Maybury, Grainger, Mackay, Anderson, Invincibile, Davidson, Millar, Craig, Samuel and MacDonald.

Brechin City - Nelson, McLean (White), Cook, McLauchlan, Moyes, Janczyk, Fusco (Archdeacon), Molloy, Byers (McKay), McAllister and McKenna.

Referee - Steve Conroy; crowd - 3891.