The Scottish Cup 4th Round, a date in the calendar which signifies both the return from the winter break for the top sides, as well as their introduction into the fabled old cup competition – the oldest running such competition in the world.
The draw on this occasion had matched League One’s bottom side Stenhousemuir against Premiership high flyers and wannabe championship contenders Aberdeen. This represented the first meeting between the sides since 1995, when Stenhousemuir inflicted one of the worst results in Aberdeen’s long history by beating them 2-0 in the same competition.
Some 23 years on from the above shock, the overriding feeling surrounding the draw was that this was a much stronger, wiser Aberdeen side compared to 1995. With a home draw and with Stenhousemuir struggling in League One this season this would have represented a home banker on many people’s predictions or betting slips across the country.
I have written before about the merits of Stenhousemuir (Stenny) and their efforts in terms of community values and providing economical value for their fans. As such, in an effort to support a club of this nature (whose shirt sponsor even reflects their community links) and also out of a desire to see if they could pull off another upset, I decided to purchase my tickets from the club and head to Pittodrie to see The Warriors do battle against the Dons.
Priced at £15, tickets represented reasonable value, probably pitched at the right level given the status of the game and mix of Premiership and League One sides. I also noted in the lead up to the game that Stenny were providing a number of free supporters buses for fans to help bring as big a support as possible to the north east – another great touch.
Entry to the away section at Pittodrie is taken via an opening to the rear of the stadium. A long path then leads through 2 security checkpoints, requiring firstly ticket checks and subsequently the always welcome “pat down” and frisking from security staff. After the security checks, electronic turnstyles offer entry into the eastern end of the South Stand, which is shared with home supporters and is located to the extreme right hand side of where the television cameras are ordinarily positioned.
As above, tickets were reasonably priced – but a Premiership club do come with Premiership prices and this was the case when we hit the concession counter for a cup of tea and pie, priced at £2.20 and £2.75 respectively which doesn’t represent optimal value, particularly on a cold January afternoon in Aberdeen where such nourishment is essential.
A decent number of Stenny fans had made the 123 mile trip north east, with a number of younger fans positioning themselves at the front of the away section and doing their utmost to create an atmosphere, complete with drum and chants for most of the pre match build up.
Approaching kick off and Aberdeen brought out the oversized flags to wave the players onto the pitch, massive circular parachute to be laid out and then ruffled in the centre circle and ramped the PR system up. Presumably a feature at most home games – but one did wonder if this was also an effort to intimidate Stenny, show beyond any shadow of a doubt that they were playing on a big stage, playing the big boys and not back in League One.
If anything however, this seemed to have the effect of convincing Aberdeen that this would be a cakewalk as they started the match in a lethargic fashion. Notwithstanding a few early bursts up the right wing from Aberdeen, the game settled into a bit of a January slog in the first half. Stenny had lined up in a solid looking 4-5-1 formation, seeking to keep things tight and then break on Aberdeen if possible. Aberdeen meanwhile had picked a strong line up and settled into a 4-2-3-1 formation, looking to exploit their fast wingers and seeking to benefit from a lot of fluidity and movement in the final third. But as above, the first half played out as a bit of a battle in the middle of the park, Stenny giving as good as they got for the most part, holding strong and then probing at the other end with some periods of pressure and forcing a couple of corners. Aberdeen had most of the ball and seemed happy to play the ball around at the back, but offered little in the final third until almost out of the blue they broke the deadlock after 21 minutes. A quick passing move down the inside left channel, led to a cut back for the left back Lowe to stroke home. A rare showing of class in the first half, but could the bigger side capitalise?
The short answer, was no. Stenny finished the first half strong with a good period of pressure, just failing to find the right pass or enough space for a clear shot on target. The first half finished with Stenny 1-0 down, but also with a feeling that they were right in the game.
The second half did however begin with Aberdeen clearly keen to see off the tie. The screw started to turn as first Gary Mackay-Steven and then Greg Stewart forced great blocks from goalkeeper Graeme Smith, who threw himself in front of the ball on both occasions to save his side. Stewart then had a great effort cannon back off the bar after some good skill on the edge of the box and at this point concern was growing among the Stenny support. However, the back line held strong with Neill And McBrearty at centre half winning their battles, keeping the front line of Aberdeen in check and also keeping Aberdeen striker Cosgrove, who had won many recent plaudits for a purple patch of form, almost entirely anonymous throughout. Stenny rode through this period of pressure and grew in confidence as a result.
A couple of forays forward broke down, but then Stenny broke with numbers and Duthie was played in down the inside left channel. An attempted backheel was picked up by Aberdeen and cleared out to the right back position. Stenny left back Donaldson picked the pocket of the Aberdeen defender and then whipped in a great cross which striker McGuigan met flush to power the header into the net and send the Stenny fans, including the young team with their drum, wild.
This was no more than Stenny had deserved, at no point outplayed and having withstood Aberdeen’s best period of pressure the equaliser was very much merited. They still had around 20 minutes to hold out however, but as Aberdeen huffed and puffed they failed once again to find any real openings. The Stenny defence held out, notably winning almost every cross ball or every balled lumped into the box in the final 10 minutes as Aberdeen searched for a winner. Some great defensive play, which allowed the team as a whole to grow in confidence and ultimately hold out for the draw.
Now, it wasn’t a famous victory this time around – but holding, and matching a strong Aberdeen side away from home, while themselves struggling for form in the league represented a great result. They will take Aberdeen back to Ochilview for a home tie, a potentially money spinning replay which given the community nature of the club cannot be underestimated. Aberdeen will still be a little embarrassed by the result, on paper most would have predicted a comfortable victory for the home side.
It wasn’t to be on this occasion however, as The Warriors claimed what will still go down as a cup shock, for the time being at least. The players and fans certainly felt as much after the full time whistle, as jubilant supporters and players alike celebrated down at the front of the away section, all fully appreciative of the nature and magnitude of the achievement.
As above, this wasn’t quite an “all time cup shock” to match that of 1995, but nonetheless it is a great result for Stenny. The magic of the cup also lives on, with Stenhousemuir’s own magic spell over Aberdeen continuing to pay dividends.