By John Turnbull at The Reigart Stadium
Chris Geddes, his staff, and his players wrote a new chapter in the University of Stirling history books on Saturday, as Stirling became the first Uni side to reach the last 32 of the Scottish Cup in over 50 years.
A 1-0 win over League Two side Albion Rovers sent the Uni into the fourth round of the competition for the first time.
Rovers’ Charlie Reilly missed a last-minute penalty to steal a place in the next round, but substitute Euan McGill tapped in a 111th-minute winner to cap an unforgettable day for the University.
An emotional Geddes said: “I felt like crying, and I probably still do. I’ve never had that emotion or that feeling before. I’m just so happy for the players because we thoroughly deserved it.
“They played 120 minutes last Sunday against a top team, 90 minutes on Wednesday, then 120 minutes today against a pro team, it’s an unbelievable effort.
“We got a bit of luck because we had a lot of chances and didn’t score, then they had a penalty and missed it, but we had that bit of quality when we needed it.
“Every time we have played a pro team in the Scottish Cup, they’ve dominated or beaten us easily, but after 20 minutes today, I knew we had a great chance.”
Geddes wasn’t the only one in Coatbridge who could see that Stirling started the better of the two teams.
Despite the rigorous schedule in recent weeks, Stirling came out of the blocks firing and should’ve led their League Two opponents early on.
Ciaran McAninch and James Stokes caused Albion problems down both wings throughout, and both came close inside five minutes.
Down the left, McAninch found space to get his shot away but it was well saved before Stokes’ cross into the box from the right clipped the crossbar a minute later.
On 15 minutes, Jason Jarvis was threaded through on goal, but Albion keeper Jack Leighfield was proving tough to beat and tipped the midfielder’s effort behind for a corner.
If the Uni could’ve picked the chance of the first half to fall to anyone, it would have been Cammy McKinley, as the striker looked for a 12th goal of the season.
Jarvis’ delivery from the edge of the box found McKinley from close range, but the in-form striker couldn’t guide his header into a corner.
Stirling pushed for an opener before the break but couldn’t find it, and Albion were clinging on as the teams headed down the tunnel for half-time.
There was an air of inevitability that Brian Reid’s side would soon get a chance, and just after the hour mark, Albion were inches away from going in front.
Reilly was picked out on the left and was unlucky to see his shot rebound back into play off the far post before Callum Wilson blazed over on the follow-up.
With the game on a knife edge, Leighfield denied Jarvis, McKinley, and Ben Maciver-Redwood as the clock ticked towards another thirty minutes.
But, on 88 minutes, Rovers were given a chance to spoil the Uni’s history-making plans as Burrows was penalised for a tussle in the box, and a spot-kick was awarded.
Stirling were afforded extra time, though, as Reilly sent his penalty kick over Ben Fry’s crossbar.
The Uni goalkeeper said: “there were loads of thoughts running through my head, but it would’ve been harsh for us to lose in that way, and thankfully, we got another chance and made the most of it in extra time.”
A roar from the visiting crowd spurred the students on for a second bout of extra time in a week, and eventually, the Uni dream turned into reality.
Late substitute James Russell charged down the right and squared the ball across the box to McGill, who finished the move off, and Stirling wheeled away in celebration.
He said: “to score a goal in the Scottish Cup is a great feeling, but to win the game it’s unbelievable.
“I’ve come off the bench and been in the right place at the right time to get the plaudits, but it was those boys who played 120 minutes and grafted so much, so they deserve the credit.”
In a faultless team performance, captain James Berry argued you ‘couldn’t name a man-of-the-match’, as ‘everyone was brilliant and the boys worked for each other.’
The skipper added: “it passes anything I have ever done in my career. We can draw anyone in Scotland in the next round now – it’s hard to believe, but what a feeling.”
There was still defending needed, though, as Rovers fought back and Kieran Dolan was denied superbly by Ben Fry from point-blank range, and McGill’s goal would be the winning one.
It was the last of a few smart saves from the Northern Irishman who remains full of expectation-defying confidence.
“I said after the last round that we could beat anyone, and we’ve just beaten a League Two team.
“The back three were different class once again, but it’s everyone in the team, even the injured boys, that’s for them.”
A squad effort on the pitch, but Geddes highlighted the scale of Stirling’s success for the club and the University.
He said: “people give the team credit, and rightly so, but I’ve got great backroom staff. I have four guys behind the scenes who are so selfless.
“I have cameramen, and other guys willing to get experience who aren’t paid, so it’s not just a team effort, it’s the whole Uni.
“You could hear the crowd there, we’ve never had that, so to hear that was just unbelievable. It was a great occasion, and a memory they’ll savour, and that will last forever.”
All eyes will be on Monday’s historic fourth-round draw, but the gaffer insists: “we want a day out where our boys can enjoy themselves and have a good Scottish Cup experience.”
The nature of Uni football is providing Geddes unimaginable success, but the show must go on just days after Saturday’s Scottish Cup scalp.
Geddes’ attention is quickly drawn to the next game as he is ‘more focused on Wednesday’ as Stirling travel to Nottingham with the chance to claim a third consecutive BUCS Premier North title.
Albion Rovers: Leighfield, Fernie, Malcolm, Sonkur, Fleming, Wilson (Testa 105), Lelsie, Roberts (Dolan 57), Reilly, Fagan (Kidd 36), Graham
University of Stirling: Fry, Gilmour, Lavery, Burrows, Stokes (Grooms 120), Heal, Berry, McAninch (McGill 100), Jarvis (Russell 100), Maciver-Redwood (Aslanoglu 104), McKinley