Edinburgh United beat St Mirren YBC 2-1 in extra time to clinch their place in the club’s very first Scottish Youth FA Challenge Cup final in Airdrie in May. So far, so good! I have been trying to recover my sanity after watching this talented Capital youth side put themselves, club officials and all their fans in the drenching, freezing rain at Patie’s Road through another nerve-shredding fight back to beat a very good team from Renfrewshire.
As in the quarter-final the previous week, when Edinburgh United stirred themselves late in game against Celtic BC at Meggetland, with the score 1-0 against them, Josh Morris scored twice in the last seven minutes to set up the semi-final clash with St Mirren YBC.
After a bright start, Edinburgh United were made to play second fiddle to a very good visiting team. St Mirren went 1-0 up in the 20th minute from a 30yd wonder goal from the very talented Jay Elder, who smashed an unsaveable shot in under the bar with Edinburgh keeper, Neil McArthur, left pawing the air after losing his footing in the muddy goalmouth. The visiting side then went on to mount attack after attack on the home goal and it was all hands to the pumps in the Edinburgh United defence to stop St Mirren adding another goal that would have, possibly, clinched the game for them. St Mirren had several top-class players in their ranks along with Elder, including No 11, Jonathan Sim and the best of them all in Mark Tedeschi, playing on the right side of the defence.
While Edinburgh were forced back in defence, the St Mirren side wasted several other half-chances to score, with Jamie Robertson blasting the ball over the home crossbar after great work by Tedeschi. All the heroes for Edinburgh United in the first half were in defence, starting from Neil McArthur and an outstanding display from Robbie Duncan. Stuart Simpson was tremendous, so too was Neil Smeaton and Johnny Coleman was just amazing. The work the Edinburgh United No 4 got through in this game was staggering. Jordan Smith was a power of strength in the middle of defence and Jason Watson went on to display superhuman qualities in the rain lashed second half and also in extra time. Mark Weatherburn made a great contribution once again, while Sam Campbell was, I think, just bursting to get on to contribute to this history making triumph. The other heroes in the home ranks included Josh Morris (of course), Joseph McVey, Kris Mitchell, Michael Collin, Robbie Duncan, Denholm Lyall, the hard-working Jason Hunter who was in the forefront of all the early attacks on the St Mirren goal, and the daddy of them all in my view in the Edinburgh United squad, the massive figure of Steven McHoul. The big No 21 came on as a substitute and St Mirren never got past him. To say big Steven hit’s the ball well is a massive understatement, it leaves his boot as if shot from a gun.
St Mirren had the advantage of the strong wind blowing at Patie’s Road but they had only a 1-0 lead to show for all their domination in the first half. That was, in my humble opinion, not enough to win this semi-final. As the wind dropped in the second half, the rain increased in intensity and it was damn, damn cold in to the bargain. The pitch became a mud path and Edinburgh United just got stronger and stronger.
The wonderful attacking moves by this very good side from the West of Scotland failed to produce another goal and the ball started to break in favour of the home side. Just as they did the week before against Celtic BC, Edinburgh United came out of their slumber and started to make things happen. The game changed, indeed, and it was the turn of St Mirren to show how good they were in defence. Goalkeeper, Steven Potter was immense in goal for the visitors and he produced the save of the game in the second half when he threw himself away down to his right hand post to deflect a net bound shot from Josh Morris for a corner. Believe me, the pressure was then on St Mirren and this amazing, fabulously fit Edinburgh United side had the bit between their teeth. Still, the home side trailed 1-0 and every time St Mirren mounted attacks, the home fans were in a state of sheer panic. But the increasing powerful home defence were not in the mood to let St Mirren get a tie clinching goal. It was ‘hell on earth’ for the home fans as the rain lashed down, particularly when Jonathan Sim was brought down on a great surging run in to the 18yd box but Bonnybridge referee, John Weir (known to his friends as the ‘red rocket’) waved play on.
The home fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. A huge roar went up from the fans trying to find cover in the small stand from the drenching downpour when Josh Morris fired the ball in to the St Mirren net. Offside, damn it! Edinburgh United were awarded a free-kick and the phenomenal Jason Watson hammered a low shot through the wall, only for Steven Potter to distinguish himself with a fantastic save. Even the soaked home fans applauded the St Mirren goalie (not too much, but still muted applause for a great save). Josh Morris brought out groans of disappointment when he broke on the left, but he spoiled all his good work with a poor finish. Denholm Lyall added to the disappointment with a wayward shot but the tide had turned once again in favour of Edinburgh United. The pressure on the St Mirren defence increased and Jordan Smith tested Potter with a fierce shot that zipped up off the sodden area in front of the St Mirren goal. But Potter showed how good he was by clutching the ball and clearing. With time running out and St Mirren looking comfortable with their 1-0 lead, a massive roar when up when Jonathan Sim produced the shot that squared the game, firing the ball past the helpless Potter from 16yds out and the ball went in to the net off the left-hand post.
The equaliser came in the 81st minute. Johnny Coleman was up in attack to send in a great header at the St Mirren goal, but the massed ranks of defenders cleared the danger. Who the hell cared about the mud and rain anymore with such incredible excitement. It was fantastic just to watch, despite having shoes filled with water, trousers soaked below the knees, freezing cold hands and a note book that squelched every time I tried to use it. Euan Wheeler almost scored a second goal for St Mirren in the first half of extra time, but Neil McArthur was right on the ball to clear, despite the panic in the home defence. But the siege on the St Mirren goal continued right up the final whistle and it was still 1-1. Extra time was almost unreal. Players went down in all areas of the muddy pitch with cramp and a huge pool of water appeared in the east goalmouth at Patie‘s Road. Another great free kick form Jay Elder was cleared off the home goal-line by Coleman and bodies were flying about everywhere before the ball was cleared. Jonathan Sim was through on the home goal and, to the undisguised relief of the home fans, he was given offside. At the other end, Josh Morris whipped in a shot on the turn, but it did not find the back of the St Mirren net. Time to pass around the valium tablets!!! Garry Gillies had a go at the home goal, but his shot was belted away then it was squeaky bum time for St Mirren fans when a shot from Josh Morris squirmed out of the hands of Steven Potter. But the brave goalie recovered to grab the loose ball at the second attempt. Jason Watson it appeared to me had found new levels of energy and commitment leading up the half-time but the teams were still locked at one-goal each. It also appeared to me the St Mirren players were struggling to cope with the home side and it was tiredness on the part of the visiting side that brought about their downfall in the second half of extra time. Potter’s goal was under threat again from a back header from the strong running Joseph McVey but the danger was cleared. But Edinburgh United just got even stronger and the distress signals were flying in the St Mirren defence with players lying on the ground suffering from cramp. The home side continued their assault on the visiting goal as St Mirren were forced further and further back. All sorts of things were happening but, still, the brave, exhausted players from Renfrewshire refused to buckle. Until the very last minute of the second half, when Josh Morris broke through in front of the St Mirren goal and he seized the opportunity to tuck the ball behind the unprotected Steven Potter to put Edinburgh United 2-1 ahead. That should have been the final curtain, but the very fair match official allowed play to run on for four more agonising minutes to allow for all the time spent on treating players with cramp. When the final whistle went, it was the cue for the Edinburgh United squad to dance in the mud at the end of another fantastic episode in the short history of this youth club team that started out just six years ago as Pentland Panthers. The reason this team were formed at that time was to give former pupils of Comiston Primary School the chance to play in the South East Region Youth League. Who would have thought this group of young players had it in them to go on and clinch a place in a Scottish Cup final six years on. Whay a great story and also a true indication of what can be achieved from with a real community-based football club. I don’t think I have ever seen a squad of players with so much togetherness and a wonderful spirit of ‘all for one’! A truly fantastic win for Edinburgh United but there was so much sympathy for the St Mirren squad of players. Now, it is onwards and upwards for Edinburgh United and as I appear to be a bit of good luck charm, some of the fathers asked if I could attend their games each week and they also offered me a seat in the team bus to the final, including an offer to pay my admission fee.
I would like to warn everyone who intends going to support Edinburgh United in the Festival of Finals at Airdrie in May to get a health check before doing so. Last week, it took two goals from Josh Morris in the last seven minutes of the quarter final at Meggetland to beat a very good Celtic BC side 2-1. This time, it was Morris again who provided the winner in the very last minute of extra time. Watching Edinburgh United in Scottish Cup games should carry a health warning. Anyone of a nervous disposition or suffering from heart problems should consider staying away from the final.
On Sunday, April 25, Hillwood BC and the brilliant Edinburgh City under-17s are the first of two finals to take place at Airdrie's Excelsior Stadium at 1pm; with the under-19 final kicking off at 3.30pm when Blue Brazil BC clash with the incredible Edinburgh United. If you ever want to see a team living 'close to the edge' then it is Edinburgh United. Go prepared for another incredible late, late surge by this ultra fit side that does not know when to give in. I don't think they actually know the meaning of 'giving in'!
Written by Ian Mackay