Jan 20 2010 by Colin Paterson, Airdrie & Coatbridge
Albion Rovers 0 Stirling Albion 0
IF this match is to be used as a barometer for the progress made by Albion Rovers this season, then manager Paul Martin will be happy with the direction in which his side are heading.
A whole division separates the Coatbridge part-timers and Allan Moore’s promotion chasers, but you would have struggled to spot the difference as this Active Nation Scottish Cup tie finished goalless on Monday evening.
Rovers earned a replay tonight (Wednesday) at Forthbank thanks to a gutsy, hard-working performance that was based on organisation, discipline and endeavour. There were no failures in Martin’s team as they did enough to secure a fourth round replay.
When analysing a hard-fought 90 minutes, firm pats on the back must be given to Rovers’ central defensive pairing of Alan Benton and Mick O’Byrne.
Few at the start of this campaign expected a Benton-O’Byrne partnership but Todd Lumsden’s ankle ligament injury in pre-season opened the door for two young players who have grabbed their opportunities with both hands.
Neither put a foot wrong on a testing night at Cliftonhill in difficult conditions, and as well as preventing Stirling from notching up the goal that would probably won the tie, the determined duo provided a platform for their team-mates to build on.
The match was 29 minutes old when Benton came up with the evening’s key contribution. A short spell of pressure led to Binos forward David McKenna finding himself at a slight angle with just keeper Derek Gaston to beat.
But Rovers’ heroic defender left the ex-St Mirren hitman on the deck as he produced a wonderful tackle that negated the danger and saw the ball run harmlessly out of play. His challenge needed to be perfect; it was.
There were other important stops as the match progressed. In the 55th minute, Gaston pulled off a good save to deny McKenna after David O’Brien’s long ball forward was flicked on into the striker’s path by Martin Grehan.
And in the 72nd minute, Rovers midfielder Steven McKeown nodded a powerful Ross Forsyth header off the line from an O’Brien corner. It was nervy stuff at times but the Monklands men held on.
In truth, they were also helped by poor finishing and Stirling attacker Grehan will have been kicking himself all the way home after blazing a shot well wide of the target following Gaston’s inability to claim an Andy Gibson corner.
Rovers weren’t, however, without their chances, although this was an area in which they were restricted. Stirling keeper Scott Christie didn’t have a save to make although he would have felt anxious when a Pat Walker drive flew across the face of his goal.
The home side actually closed out the game with no strikers. Marc McCusker and Walker were both given breathers as Martin ended in a 4-5-1 formation, with the veteran midfielder Danny Ferry a makeshift forward.
“I thought a draw was a fair result,” said Rovers boss Martin. “I thought we were well organised but I didn’t think we passed the ball as well as we can and I also think we can offer more in the final third of the pitch.
“We have matched them over the piece, though, but we know it is going to be a big ask for us in the replay.
“It was a tough game for us, as they are a physical side. We are disappointed not to get the victory but neither side probably did enough to win.
“We will see how fit we are. We haven’t played for a few weeks, so this is a real test for us. But we aren’t playing a full-time team and they will have the same issues to deal with as us.”
As the players emerged from the dressing room following the final whistle, they reported that the pitch became increasingly difficult to play on as the plunging temperatures began to have an impact.
Martin added: “The pitch was definitely playable but the small amount of frost we had certainly made things bumpy as the game wore on.
“There were areas of the surface that were hard even before the game but no one was in danger and it was the right decision to play the match.”
That these two teams will be asked to do it all over again tonight is frankly ridiculous and makes a mockery of the nation’s main cup competition.
With over two weeks to go until the fifth round fixtures take place, there was ample time for a replay to be scheduled by the SFA for next midweek. To ask part-time sides to play such an important match on the back of less than 48 hours rest is needless.
What kind of team Martin selects is up for debate but the fact is he will be selecting from the same 16 who were stripped for action on Monday night. Rovers are down to the bare bones.
But never write off the Cliftonhill underdogs. The task facing them may be huge but the pressure is firmly on Stirling’s shoulders. How they handle it will decide this tie.
Advertiser man of the match (3pts) - Alan Benton. Just pips his partner in central defence due to terrific first-half tackle. Mick O’Byrne (2pts), Paul Tyrrell (1pt).
Moment of the match: Martin Grehan’s miss after Derek Gaston failed to claim a corner was crucial.
Albion Rovers: Gaston; Reid, Benton, O’Byrne, McGowan; McKeown (Dignam 88), Donnelly, Tyrrell, Boyle; McCusker (Canning 80), Walker (Ferry 85). Subs not used: O’Boyle, Ewings(gk).
Stirling: Christie; Feakes, Graham, Roycroft, Forsyth; Gibson (Taggart 75), Murphy (Devine 82), Robertson, O’Brien; Mullen (Grehan 53), McKenna. Subs not used: Young, Hogarth(gk).
Referee: George Salmond.