BY MARK GODFREY
The countdown is on to the Second Round of the Scottish Cup and October 5th sees our chosen side, St. Cuthbert Wanderers take on the very daunting task of trying to knock the top Junior side in the land, Auchinleck Talbot, out of the competition.
The St.Mary’s Park club edged past Hawick Royal Albert in the first round thanks to a goal by Grant Middlemiss, and the lads know it’s going to take a Herculean effort if they’re to consign Talbot to the same fate.
Saints hope to go into the game in good form at least, having beaten Crichton 5-2 in the South of Scotland League Cup and then facing the same opposition again in the Potts Cup on their new 3G playing surface. Despite the importance of these games to the Kirkcudbright club, they all serve as the warm-up act for the big game in Ayrshire on October 5th.
Auchinleck, incredibly, are unbeaten in league football since the final day of the 2011/12 season and are current Western Premier League champions and have suffered a mere five cup defeats in various competitions in the same period – they are the current Scottish Junior Cup holders after their 1-0 win over Linlithgow Rose in a final that was a clash of the Junior titans last season.
Ahead of the game I caught up with three of St. Cuthbert’s top men – Craig Rudd, Paul Gray and Grant Middlemiss
In the last round against Hawick Royal Albert you had a ‘comfortable’ 1-0 win, but what was going through your head when the team and particularly the reliable Craig missed so many good chances to kill the game off?
CR – Come on now! I think I only missed the target once in the whole game! Let’s give the keeper and the two defenders with goal line clearances some praise! But seriously, we were solid at the back and always felt comfortable! Except of course from that save from Jack! As a goalie though I think he would be disappointed not to make that! Fairly routine!
GM – Of course it wouldâ€™ve been good to get another goal but aside from their chance in the last couple of minutes and the header half way through the first half, they werenâ€™t causing us any real danger. I was just thinking that with all the chances we were creating, and if we continued to play the way we were, then eventually we would convert another. Although that wasnâ€™t to be.
PG – As a defender it was one of those games where 1-0 is never comfortable and into the second half it became more of battle so a second goal would have eased the pressure. Although Ruddy had his chances you can’t forget he scored 6 the previous week and won us the game.
Grant’s excellently taken goal and Jack’s save at the end were crucial. What other key moments tipped the balance in your favour?
CR – I though our central midfield 3 were fantastic for 90 minutes and controlled the game giving us the cover at the back and pushing on in attack!
GM – I think in general the way our two centre halves, Jim Kirk and Adam Johnston, played throughout the whole game gave us an advantage. There wasnâ€™t much they missed and I think that helped to settle the team into the game, knowing that our defence were coping with any threat created by Hawick.
PG – I think the fact we went in 1-0 at half-time gave the team a lift and we were all buzzing in the changing room.
How does that Hawick result and reaching Round 2 rank on your list of football achievements?
GM – Itâ€™s definitely one of my better achievements in senior football. Scoring the winning goal though is something that Iâ€™ll be especially proud of.
PG – For me very highly as this was the first year I have played in the Scottish Cup and part of the reason why I signed for the club. Hopefully we can pull off a result next round.
CR – It was a good win but we were favourites to win the game and don’t want to get too carried away! great achievement though considering from the 18 that travelled on Saturday only 3 were part of last seasons cup run!
I can imagine the bus journey back was quite lively? A few beers involved perhaps and a good night out to celebrate?
GM – Well there was no alcohol allowed on the bus on the way home which wasnâ€™t ideal. I canâ€™t say the same for when we got home though but it was certainly a good night with all the boys.
PG – Yeah you can say that again! Players and supporters were all in good spirit. Stevie Broon had a few lads back to his for some drinks but I opted for a Chinese takeaway with the feet up after a hard shift. I’m an athlete!
CR – The bus was very lively on the way home despite the drinks ban! But we more than made up for it when we got back to town though!
What was your reaction when you were paired with crack Junior outfit Auchinleck Talbot? What do you know about them?
CR – I slumped to my knees and started crying….. no seriously, these are the games you want to play in as I believe they have big crowds and the playing surface is one of the best around! I don’t know a lot apart from they are top dogs in Junior football but I have a few friends who have recently played Junior or are currently still playing Junior level so will be asking advice on them!
PG – I think everybody will agree that it’s one of the worst possible draws as they are a very good team. My dad played against them several times during his days at Kello Rovers and he has told me all about them and what a hostile place it is to go. They are a very good footballing side who can produce lots of goals.
GM – Itâ€™s certainly one of the harder draws we couldâ€™ve got, they are a great outfit. I think they show that every year in their league. They also had a good run in the Scottish Cup a couple of years ago when they took Hearts to the wire so we are aware that they are a quality side.
What chance do you give yourselves going into this game as massive underdogs?
GM – You never know what can happen on the day, itâ€™s going to be a tough ask, thereâ€™s no denying that, but Iâ€™m sure whoever plays will give it their all and weâ€™ll just have to see what happens.
PG – Football is a funny game and anything can happen in 90 minutes. I’m sure everybody has wrote us off already but all the lads will be up for it on the day.
CR – It’s cup football so anything can happen! We will be massive underdogs but we are not just going to make up the numbers! We will have a game plan and if every one sticks too it then who knows what might happen?!
Any special plans being cooked up to combat their threat?
PG – We haven’t really spoken about it yet, we take each game as it comes but the club will do a bit of scouting and Mr. Stovell will come up with a master plan.
CR – We will probably have them watched the next couple of weeks and we will discuss in training leading up to the game their strengths and weaknesses and what we have to do to match them.
GM – Iâ€™ve not heard of anything, yet….
You’re all going to have a key role to play, but who do you see as the lads who need to have the game of their lives to progress to Round 3?
GM – I think the squad as a whole, not just the starting 11 but the subs that come on as well. Everyone involved is going to have a big job on their hands.
PG – Chances may be limited so I think our strikeforce will have to be on top form. Saying that we will have to be tight in defence and hopefully Jack will produce the same form as last round.
CR – The entire squad will need to be on the top of their game! We cant afford any passengers!
Win, lose or draw you have plenty to be proud of. What will this do for the rest of your season and what is your target for the rest of the campaign?
CR – It gives us the belief that we can produce on the big stage and take that form into the league and keep our unbeaten run going!
PG – If we manage to win then it would be massive for the club, but the rest of the season will go on the same with hopes of the title and cup success.
GM – Hopefully itâ€™ll allow us to play with a bit more confidence both as a team and individually, the experience weâ€™ve gained from the cup will hopefully help us to continue to perform well for the rest of the season. Come the end of the season Iâ€™d like to think we would be in the mix for the league as well as having the opportunity to pick up a couple of the league cups.
Finally, who do you fancy to win the cup?
GM – For me, I think Celtic will lift it, but Iâ€™d also like to see an upset come the end, who wouldnâ€™t?
PG – Im sure it will be one of the top flight clubs. It has been good to see a change from Rangers and Celtic in recent years.
CR – The famous Glasgow Celtic! C’mon the Hoops!
Cheers guys. Good luck for Round 2! Unfortunately The Football Pink (i.e. me) can’t be there to see how you get on but we’ll keep our fingers crossed and if this is where you say goodbye to the Scottish Cup and The Road To Hampden, we wish you all the best for the rest of the season. But, in cup football, as the old clichÃ©s go, the form book can so often go out of the window, so we may just meet again in Round 3.