After a remarkable season, the University of Stirling drew the curtain on a memorable campaign with a third title, after a 3-2 win over Sauchie Juniors in the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup final.
Sunday marked 71 games since Stirling travelled to Gretna for the opening Lowland League match, and with a win, the season ended the same way it started.
However, ironically, this one required extra time before the Uni players could earn a well-deserved rest, and Ben Maciver-Redwood’s winner provided the perfect conclusion.
Head coach Chris Geddes said: “We didn’t play that well today, but we showed we have quality.
“In extra time we managed the game really well, but what else can I say about these boys? That’s four extra time games we have had this season, on top of the 71 games we have played.
“To play that many games, win three trophies, get far in all the cups, and just 71 games – it’s pretty unbelievable, and to win a third title of the year is impressive.
“Ben [Maciver-Redwood] got his 22nd goal of the season, Cammy [McKinley] scored his 20th, so we have five guys over 20, and I don’t know many teams with five players above 20 goals.”
Despite the students’ fitness and quality prevailing more as the season went on, perhaps Sauchie were the fresher of the two sides and started as if that was the case.
Sauchie danger man Ross Kavanagh passed up a couple of chances in the opening quarter of an hour, and his opposite number nine made the East of Scotland side pay.
On 18 minutes, James Berry curled a pass around the Sauchie defence, and Cammy McKinley lifted the ball over an on-rushing Chic Bell.
Stirling struck whilst the iron was hot and, under ten minutes later, doubled the lead through a late goal of the season contender.
Matty Burrows produced an exquisite piece of skill on the halfway line to complete a 1-2 with Ben Heal before the midfielder drove down the line.
He then linked with McKinley and Ciaran McAninch before smashing back across goal into the far corner from the edge of the box.
Sauchie responded, but it took until the start of the second half to get back in the game after another fast reaction from the whistle.
Two minutes after the restart, Kavanagh found space at the back post and lashed in a volley to halve the deficit.
Given the excellence of his strike to give Stirling a cushion in the game, many would’ve fancied Heal to restore that lead, but Bell saved well from close range on 67 minutes.
The Reds threw everything at Stirling to find an equaliser and after hitting the post on 88 minutes, forced extra-time with the last kick of the game when the ball fell to Scott Davidson from 25 yards, and his effort was fired in off the post.
Stirling had defended stoutly being a man down for the last ten minutes of regular time and found a new lease of life upon returning to even numbers.
Both sides had played their part in a fiercely contested cup final, and there was little action in the last half an hour outside of a decisive Uni header.
With 99 minutes on the clock, Maciver-Redwood headed towards goal, and Bell couldn’t keep it out as the crowd held its breath, watching the ball creep over the line.
There was as much a collective sigh of relief from the Uni support as could be found in the Stirling dugout, as the final whistle was eventually blown.
From Durham to Dundee and The Oriam to Nottingham, this was a season that did not need more silverware to prove its success but rather deserved it.
In the 114th running of the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup, the Stirling players got their hands on the trophy to go alongside the Queen’s Park Shield and BUCS Premier North triumphs, which Geddes shared his delight in achieving.
“We know how good this season has been – 49 wins, and we’ve only lost 14 games out of 71, scoring over 190 goals.
“But I want to give a big special mention to the boys graduating. It’s no coincidence they are all getting good teams phoning them because of how well they’ve done, they were outstanding.
“The achievements speak for themself, and we’ll try and do the same again next year, it’ll be a bit harder, but I’m really happy for the boys and my staff.
“It’s not just me who puts the work in, we have really good staff behind us who help the players, so without, them we don’t get these results, but I’m just really proud of the players.”