The University of Stirling’s historic cup run may have come to an end, but the Lowland League side certainly more than deserved praise following defeat to Dundee United on Saturday.
In a week that included an away trip to Durham to seal the BUCS Premier North title for the third consecutive season, it’s perhaps strange to say this was their greatest performance yet.
Head coach Chris Geddes can be extremely proud of how hard the students fought as they faced a United line-up that included with ex-Scotland internationals Steven Fletcher and Charlie Mulgrew, and Australian World Cup star Aziz Behich.
In fact, he struggled to hold back a smile at full-time with Sportscene presenter Amy Irons suggesting that Geddes was the happiest manager of the day at full-time.
And why not – his side gave it everything.
Geddes and his side have been on a historic journey that started with victory against Lothian Thistle in September.
A heated second-round clash with Dunbar United followed, which included a dramatic sending-off seen by over six million people online.
Next came League Two side Albion Rovers and the chance to surpass any Stirling Uni team that had come before.
A famous win followed.
Euan McGill’s extra-time winner would take the University of Stirling into the Scottish Cup fourth round for the first time in the club’s history. In the process, they became the first university side to make it as far in over 50 years.
Their reward – Premiership side Dundee United.
If the opportunity of a great Scottish Cup upset wasn’t enough motivation for the players, messages from Sir Alex Ferguson, Craig Brown, Lilian Thuram and Neil Warnock would make any underdog believe they had a chance – however slim.
And backed by an away support of 1,047 fans – made up of family, friends, alumni and even University Principal Sir Gerry McCormac – the players had the whole university cheering them on.
“What a crowd, it was like a home game for us,” said Geddes at full-time.
Buoyed on by chants of “Unayyy” the first chance of the game fell to Jason Jarvis. The midfielder forcing Mark Brighitti into a low save at his near post.
A wake-up call for the home side, who were now well aware this would be no walk in the park.
The students limited Dundee United to very few chances in the first half, with Charlie Mulgrew’s headed effort cleared from the line proving to be their only shot on target until minute 44.
The home side controlled possession, but the Uni caused them trouble on the break. James Stokes had a shout for a penalty when it appeared he was shoved to the ground by Aziz Behich, but the ref was unmoved.
“I see why Dundee United didn’t want VAR,” Geddes joked. “That’s the type of luck you need in these games, a penalty or a mistake.”
United would open the scoring just before halftime. Steven Fletcher headed the ball back across the box and Aziz Behich turned and slammed it into the roof of the net.
A crushing blow for the students who barely put a foot wrong.
In the second half a driving run from Ben Heal resulting in a shot proved to be the student’s best chance.
But while some of the players may have tired, the travelling support did not. Chants of “Is this a library?” and “Dundee’s a sh*thole, we wanna go home” echoed around Tannadice.
The home side scored their second on minute 65 when a deflected cross sat up well for Jamie McGrath who brilliantly bicycled his effort past Fry.
United would add a third through Glen Middleton with 10 minutes left to play.
Following defeat Geddes said: “Listen we just played a Premier League side and got beat 3-0, we kept them relatively quiet for 45 minutes and then they scored right on half time.
“I’m proud as punch.
“We go away with our heads held high.
“Dundee United showed why they are a Premier League team, but they were very complimentary of my guys.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dundee United manager Liam Fox who said: “I’ve got to give credit to Stirling Uni, they worked their socks off and made it difficult for us.
“It was a massive day for these guys and they worked incredibly hard.”
For the players at the University of Stirling it was a day they will not forget in a hurry, helped by the fact the United players were more than willing to give them their shirts at full-time.
A fitting memento for the players who took part in the University of Stirling’s greatest game.
Dundee United: Birighitti, Smith, Mulgrew, Graham, Fletcher (Cudjoe 73’), Sibbald (Harkes 82’), Behich, McGrath (Pawlett 68’), Levitt, Freeman (Niskanen 73’), MacLeod (Middleton 68’)
University of Stirling: Fry, Gilmour, Service, Lavery, Berry (Aslanoglu 79’), Heal, Jarvis (Russell 70’), Stokes (Munro 87’), McKinley (Rae 72’), Maciver-Redwood, McGill (McAninch 70’)
Featured Image Credit: George Vekic