Auchinleck Talbot 2 – 2 Pollok (2-4 on penalties): 6th April 2024

For the second Saturday in a row Pollok headed to East Ayrshire on West of Scotland League Cup duty. After the narrow quarter final win over Hurlford the reward was a daunting semi-final with in-form Auchinleck Talbot, and it was the visitors who triumphed in a dramatic afternoon at Beechwood as Stewart Maxwell’s side took Pollok into their first final since 2018, triumphing 4-2 on penalties.

Maxi made one change to the starting line with Kyle Faulds returning from the suspensionn that ruled him out last week in place of Jay Nelson. The use of wingbacks and three centre halves now firmly established as the preferred formation.

On a day of pitch inspections and postponements the Beechwood Park pitch was in good order although a fierce wind was blowing – which had a real impact on the play. Jordan Longmuir was the first keeper called into action when he had to push a long-range drive round the post. At the other end, Stephen Docherty saw a shot go wide after Adam Forde had laid a Sean Burns free-kick back to him.

Docherty’s next chance was a great one, as a kick out by Longmuir was flicked on by Forde and Docherty was on to it in a flash. He took it round the keeper and passed it goalwards only to see it cleared by some brilliant defensive work. A swirling Talbot corner caused a moment of concern at the back post for the away side but after a bit of head tennis the Talbot shot was comfortably saved by Longmuir.

Neither team had full control of the game and a Fraser Mullen free-kick resulted in a header from Burns which was saved by Glavin. The opening goal arrived in the twenty-second minute after some patient Pollok build up play. A Ryan McGregor cross into the box saw Luke Main challenge for the ball, with his header deflected into the path of Docherty, and his right foot strike evaded the diving Glavin and put the Southsiders one up.

The ball rolls over the line for the opening goal, and Docherty celebrates.

Auchinleck went in search of an equaliser and saw a corner cleared off the line by Forrester before a good cross in from the right was headed over the bar. A McPherson hand to the face of Main rather bizarrely saw both players yellow carded.

McPherson raises a hand to Main, and both players are booked.

HALF TIME: AUCHINLECK TALBOT 0 – 1 POLLOK

The turnaround at half time meant both sets of players had to adjust to the wind doing the opposite to the ball from what they had become accustomed to in the previous forty-five minutes. And it was most definitely the home side who adjusted quicker. Straight from the kick-off the Pollok rear-guard were pinned back and when space was created in the box, McAvoy found the bottom corner with a neat finish.

With Mullen appealing in vain for a free-kick on the edge of the Talbot box the home side produced a slick move down the left which ended in Longmuir blocking a shot at his near post. From the corner he was forced into action again to grasp a header. Talbot’s next quick break should have seen them take the lead. Longmuir did well to block a one on one but when the ball broke back to the attacker he could only loft it over the open goal.

Longmuir was now by far the busier keeper and having tipped a long-range drive over the bar he had to get down quickly to push away a header from the corner. There was nothing he could do in the 55th minute however, when a low cross was smashed into the roof of the net by McAvoy.

The away side’s hopes of progressing were further reduced when Forrester was sent off in the 64th minute for two yellow cards in quick succession, but the ten men did not let their heads drop.

Forrester is given his marching orders.

A Forde free-kick over the bar was followed by a Faulds drive which was well saved showed Pollok remained an attacking threat. With twelve minutes to go that threat produced a goal. A long-range strike from Mullen was blocked and Main pounced on the loose ball, steadied himself and slotted a finish into the bottom corner.

Main levels the match with an assured finish.

Both teams had chances to win a pulsating cup tie within the ninety minutes but neither team could find the target and so it was on to penalty kicks. Pollok went first and Mullen sent Glavin the wrong way. Talbot responded with a thumping strike right down the middle.

Mullen got Pollok off the mark with the opening penalty.

After Gallacher restored Pollok’s lead with a beauty into the top corner the drama was heightened a notch when Longmuir saved with his feet. However the referee ordered a retake as the ball had moved in the strong wind. Smith’s second attempt was also saved by Longmuir. McGregor coolly stepped up and sent Glavin the wrong way to keep the momentum with Pollok before Talbot found the bottom corner with their next one to stay in touch.

Gallacher and McGregor both find the top corner.

Longmuir saves the retake from Smith.

Pollok’s fourth penalty was skied over the bar by Forde before Longmuir made a smart low stop to set up a winning opportunity for the away side. It was fitting that Main had the last say as he slotted his penalty low to the keeper’s right to seal Pollok’s place in the final. Longmuir and Main were the stars on a day when there were few failures.

It had been another performance of grit and determination allied to no little skill and a never say die attitude. A poor first ten minutes of the second half had almost cost them their chance but they dug deep to ensure that a cup tie that could have gone either way went theirs. After wins on the road against Petershill, Clydebank, Hurlford and Auchinleck as well as a home win over Gartcairn it is a thoroughly merited place in the final for Maxi and the boys. One for the large and jubilant travelling support to look forward to.

FULL TIME: AUCHINLECK TALBOT 2 – 2 POLLOK

(Pollok win 4-2 on penalties)

 

GOALS:

Auchinleck Talbot: McAvoy (46′, 55′)

Pollok: Docherty (22′), Main (78′)

 

Man of the Match: Jordan Longmuir

Well into his tenth season at the club, the stopper continues to turn up when it truly matters for Pollok. Two saves today made it five shootout saves this season, following similarly crucial interventions against Benburb and Clydebank. In his testimonial year, he remains a match winner, and further cements his status as a Pollok legend.

 

Match report by Peter Thomson

Photographs from Katie McGough

 

Match highlights from Mark Donnelly