by Glen Barclay
Stirling University FC continued their trend of notching early in games this season, as David O’Brien’s finish after just 59 seconds proved the difference in a 1-0 win over Wick Academy at Falkirk Stadium on Saturday.
Following last week’s action-packed 2-2 stalemate in Wick, Stirling made just one change as they looked to progress into the second round of the Scottish Cup.
Knowing the winners would face a difficult yet enticing trip to League Two side Montrose, Stirling came racing out of the traps, taking the lead within a minute. Player-manager Chris Geddes gathered the ball just inside his own half before spreading a beautiful lofted pass out wide to Paul McCafferty, who in turn deftly played in veteran David O’Brien to allow the front man to poke past the onrushing Sean McCarthy.
The university side continued to press early on, forcing several corners which were well dealt with by the Wick defence. Danger man O’Brien continued to prove a handful for the visitors, with his individual run to the byline and resulting cross producing a great chance to double the home advantage, had anyone been there to meet the through ball.
In a relatively one-sided half where the Stirling defence produced a masterclass in how to frustrate the opponent, Wick tested goalkeeper Kevin Walker only once. The effort from Steven Anderson was well-struck; however, Walker was equal to it, palming behind for a corner.
The home advantage should have been doubled just before the break when Geddes did brilliantly to beat keeper McCarthy to a 50/50 on the edge of the box. The ball found its way to Eachainn ‘Eck’ Miller via goalscorer O’Brien, but his tame effort under pressure was forced out by the recovering goalkeeper.
The second half started much slower than the first, with both teams happy to pass the ball about the defences. This tactic almost played the hosts into trouble when centre back Alex Webb was caught out by McGregor, whose audacious lob, once in possession, had Stirling hearts in mouths as they watched it float onto the roof of Walkers net.
Alongside O’Brien, McCafferty was causing all kinds of problems for the unfortunate Wick full-backs, and was unlucky not to see his powerful strike from the outside the box nestle in the net. Instead, onlookers watched the ball rebounding off both post and goalkeeper before being scrambled to safety, when on another day it would have doubled their advantage.
Moments later the two linked up again, this time with O’Brien testing McCarthy from close range; the block was solid, with McCafferty failing to turn the rebound home.
As the half wore on, Wick went on the offensive, and were very unfortunate not to level the score at 71 minutes when McNabb found space on the edge of the box. Running onto a cutback, his driven effort deflected up and over the home goal and out for a corner, which also came to nothing.
With a history for scoring phenomenal Scottish Cup goals, Geddes latched onto a poor headed clearance 25 yards out with only one thing in mind. He composed himself before attempting a Cantona-esq chip, which floated inches wide of the top corner.
Geddes continued the hunt for a second and decisive goal, this time linking up with O’Brien on the 75th minute. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, though, Hardwick produced a superb last-ditch challenge to deny.
However, the game was to end in controversy when Anderson was sent flying in the box by a Stirling defender. The crowd roared, baying for the penalty. However, the referee bravely waved play on and the ball was cleared, thereby confirming the first teams place in the Scottish Cup second round.
After the match, the hosts were complimented by visiting manager Tom McKenna on their defensive prowess, saying they were, “Well-disciplined and very hard to break down…a testament to the effort of the coaching staff.”
However, he felt that a draw would have been a fair result, considering they were missing six key men.
Home manager Geddes understandably disagreed, with the majority of action falling in the Wick half.
With several stand-out performers today – namely captain Lewis Hunter who bossed the midfield, never losing a challenge and remaining disciplined throughout, and winger Paul McCafferty, who on another day may have ended the game with a brace – it is the goalscorer O’Brien who gets my man of the match.
He linked up brilliantly for the opening goal and continued to test Wick’s defence all game, in an experienced performance from the former Morton man.
It is the men in green that advance to the second round, then, with the tie against Montrose set for a fortnight’s time.