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Musselburgh Athletic 1 Dalry Thistle 0

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As the game kicked off, hundreds of people were still pouring into Olivebank and I took my first half place at one of the few spaces available, straddling the corner flag. Looking around the ground, people were standing shoulder to shoulder, with the majority of noise originating from the Dalry teenage fans under the enclosure. The stage was set, could the players deliver the entertainment?

First up Dalry. Two minutes on the clock and a lively attack down the right saw Canning drive towards the corner flag, before sending in a tempting high cross to McMillan, who took the ball on the volley. His shot however was well over the crossbar. The next ten minutes saw Thistle hemmed in their own half, without looking like they would concede the opening goal. It was the visitors, who broke out of defence as Gilhooley and McMillan linked up well on the right-wing but Tansey was back to clear the Burgh lines at the rear. Dalry looked to be up for the task ahead, with some spirited forward runs. In 13 minutes, Hay had an opportunistic shot from 30 metres, possibly suggesting Darren Henderson had sent his side out to try from any range. On this occasion, Hay’s shot was skied out of harms way. That man Hay was in the thick of the action seconds later when he crossed a dangerous ball in to the box. It appeared the keeper and his defence, under pressure from McMillan, fumbled the ball but the ball found its way to safety.

Musselburgh had the majority of possession but hadn’t threatened or caused any real concern for the Dalry defence. The home fans were out in force but were quiet, until Chris King sent a lovely diagonal ball from right to left, which found Matt King at the edge of the box. He skilfully skipped passed two defenders as the home fans were full of expectation but his shot dipped narrowly over the bar. In 23 minutes, Gilhooley found himself bearing down on Musselburgh’s keeper, Renton. The striker released his shot early, possibly too early at 20 metres out, for his shot failed to trouble the diving Renton.

The first “real” opportunity fell to Kerr after Chris King floated in a free kick from the left, Kerr, who was at the back of the area, hit the ball on the volley, only to see his shot skim the woodwork. A fantastic effort from the Burgh defender. The home side were beginning to create chances and trouble the Thistle defence. King again, delivered from a corner with height and curl; the ball deceiving everyone till it arrived at the feet of Gibson but his close range low effort, passed the post without concern for Stewart in goal.

The next breakaway from Dalry was instigated by Fleeting who sent Potter free down the left side of the park. Again the finish was disappointing as the ball trundled passed the post.

A desperately dissatisfying first period and like me, the large crowd were hoping their teams would move up a gear after the break. It was Musselburgh who started the livelier of the two. From a corner, forward Kris Renton and winger Paul Tansey, both had strikes at the ball but their final effort rose over the bar.

An element of the visiting support was becoming increasingly vocal, accompanied by a lone drummer, who set the beat for song after song as the attempted to inspire their heroes. However Musselburgh were once again dominating with possession falling to their creative midfield of King, Shand and Tansey but once more, there was no final product. Similar could be said of Dalry when Fleeting and Canning set up Gilhooley whose shot was low but carried no power as it disappeared past the upright. This game required a goal badly but it did not look likely if I am honest. I was almost proved wrong when Tansey dispatched a screamer of a shot from 25 metres, which induced an incredible swerve on the ball as it moved around in the air. So much so that when it skimmed the bar, I was convinced it took a deflection based on the evidence of the wrong footing of Stewart in goal. However – goal kick, no complaints from anyone. A reeker of a shot!
18 minutes into the second half, the home side still dominated much of the play, percentage wise and despite a couple of dangerous looking crosses from right back Gordon, no effort on goal was forthcoming. Dalry were fortunate not to give away a penalty when Tansey was brought down heavily on the left corner of the penalty box. As a result of the tackle, Tansey was helped off the park and replaced. Before the substitution could be made, Chris King lined up the free-kick. And what a kick it was! Bent around the wall, into the danger area, avoiding a mass of players, finishing in the bottom right corner of the Dalry net. The roar from the home fans reverberated around the ground as the Dalry contingent, who were vocal up to that point, fell silent.

So 62 minutes to break the deadlock, would we now have some entertainment? Would Dalry come out their shell and play like anyone who has seen them in the Scottish Junior Cup this season, know only too well, their ability? Would Musselburgh run away with the match and win handsomely? I am afraid to say the answer was negative on all accounts. Yes Musselburgh came to life for a while; in fact King had another fantastic shot, minutes after his superb goal, this time however it took a wicked deflection and like numerous other efforts, missed the target by inches. Burgh substitute Brian Murray caused problems more or less upon his arrival on the pitch. Twisting and turning, the odd shot but yet again, no finish could be found.

The visitors had needed a change. They were now being outplayed in the middle of the park, and the game plan, didn’t appear to be working. They had a corner in the final ten minutes, resulting in head tennis and passing from one side of the box to the other but could not find away through a packed Musselburgh defence.

Off the park, Dalry’s youthful complement of the support, were becoming restless and frustrated. No longer was the drum beating and calling the tunes and one or two; and I STRESS it was only one or two, began enticing the young home fans to fight, on the embankment behind the goal. The home fans duly obliged or should I say two of them but the large police and security presence soon dispersed the problematic youths from the back of the goal. Trouble averted thanks to the quick thinking of the police.

Back to the important topic – the football. As my attention was focused where it should be, Kris Renton hit a bullet of a shot, which rattled the bar and bounced down, comparable with a certain 1966 World Cup final goal. As Renton ran to the fans to celebrate, the play continued as the lad was unaware that like 1966, it wasn’t a goal, for the ball did not cross the line. A comical moment to lighten the mood after the previous scenes involving a minority of the support.

The final chance again fell to the home club. This time a prolific shot from Shand brought out the best in Stewart, who dived and palmed the ball away to safety. Dalry gave it their all in the dying minutes with no reward.

I was asked before a ball was kicked by a few reporters, who I thought would progress to the final. My response was simple, Dalry would have to lose by three clear goals or Musselburgh could find themselves in trouble in the second leg. Thistle are a different animal on home soil as one or two Premier League sides will vouch for, having fallen to Darren Henderson and John Garroch’s lads already in the tournament. Having watched Dalry cope with what Musselburgh had to offer, other than an awesome strike from a dead ball situation, I fancy the Ayrshire minnows to make the final. David McGlynn will have to gee up this Athletic side if they are to defeat Dalry at Merksworth or face the consequences. Can Dalry see the fairytale through to Hampden, if that is indeed the venue for the final or will they crumble to a superior performance from today’s under par Burgh? Get yourself along to the second leg to find out. A tie not to be missed, irrespective of who you support. This is going to be a cracker!

Musselburgh: Renton Gordon Noble Gibson Kerr C. King Beveridge Shand Renton M. King Tansey Subs: Russell Draper Ramage Mitchell Murray Porteous Adams

Dalry: Stewart Hay Fleeting Menzies McKinnell Seymour Bell Potter Gilhooley McMillan Canning Subs: Ward Strain Russell Brown Sanderson Cusak McCann

Man of the Match: There was but one player who excelled today for me. His passes were accurate, his shooting superb, he controlled the midfield in a Franz Beckenbauer fashion, graceful on the ball, adept off it. My MOM today is Chris King.

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