The Scottish Cup has the beauty of providing memorable upsets and on paper, a 6th tier side narrowly beating a 5th tier side on penalties appears to be just that. The nature of Scottish football though means that Gretna 2008 boss, Bryan Gilfillan saw his side as the underdogs this Saturday afternoon.
The game started slowly, with both sides having spells of possession but little more, with Musselburgh’s Zach Khan providing the most threatening passages of play down the left hand side. He looks a player who won’t be playing in the 6th tier much longer.
The 300-strong Olivebank crowd was brought to life after half an hour with Gretna forcing a smart double save from Musselburgh keeper Daniel Laing. This energy continued down the other end with Musselburgh’s Nathan Evans rattling the post after rounding the Gretna keeper. Action, finally, but nevertheless still 0-0.
The lively football at the end of the first half continued into the second, with Gretna breaking the deadlock after 50 minutes – the goal scored by Dario Viviani at the keeper’s near post after an excellent drive infield from captain David Cox.
The lead would last a mere five minutes though with a clever clipped ball over Gretna’s high defensive line finding the feet of Jordan Smith who calmly curled the ball into the bottom corner.
Gretna’s defensive resolve was tested for the rest of the half, but the improvements made by Gilfillan and the side are clear to see, compared to their early season form.
The last ten minutes of the half saw a flurry of quick breaks for Gretna, facilitated by the strength and guile of striker Iain Anderson, who’s physical presence occupied the Musselburgh defenders throughout, but the chances came to no avail. 1-1 it would finish. Into extra time.
As expected, extra time was a nervy affair with Musselburgh seeming happy to soak up the pressure. Anderson forced a goal line block early on, with shouts of handball waved away to Gretna’s despair.
Despite playing 120 minutes last week, Gretna looked the fitter, and more threatening side, but Musselburgh’s Laing once again kept his side in the tie, with another fine double save. Perhaps he wanted the game to go to penalties, knowing full well he’s pretty handy at saving them. He would prove to be the difference, saving Gretna’s final two penalties to see his side into the second round.
Gretna now leave the cup behind them and focus turns back to the Lowland League. They travel to Gala Fairydean Rovers on Saturday, with Gilfillan knowing his side will “bounce back straightaway” and quickly get over the disappointment of this afternoon.
There are positives to take though. Recent performances, including today, show the side’s defensive solidity is improving and the squad is now “settled and as strong as it’s been all season” so there’s opportunity now for Gretna to work their way up the table. Whilst today’s result may not be a cupset as such, it is a major statement from Musselburgh and one that should also give confidence to Gretna for the games to come.