Last week’s trip for Brora Rangers to Kilmarnock was not just a memorable experience for the county of Sutherland but also for the youth teams at the club.
Following the announcement of the tie back in January, Brora Rangers Youth were seeking to find a way of taking as many of their youngsters as possible down to the clash with the premier league side and their calls were answered by some very generous people.
Thanks to Stagecoach, Edward MacKay Ltd, Robbie Sutherland and Willie Huggan, Brora Rangers took more than 80 of their playing teams to the game. A combination of players from the Thursday night Mini Kickers Programme (Primary 1-7), Ladies Team, under 17s and Under 20s ventured south accompanied by coaches and some parents to witness history in Brora’s first appearance at this stage of the competition.
This was something that the club were very keen to ensure happened and the valuable support to get this to happen was unbelievably forthcoming.
Brora Rangers head of youth, Dale Pryde-MacDonald, said: “Following the draw we were very keen to make sure we took as many of our young players down to Kilmarnock as possible, to show them they can live their dreams of playing against top level clubs but playing part-time football. From there we ran a very heavy social media campaign looking for support and the results were incredible.
“We all know how tough things can be for businesses and individuals and to have all of these guys coming to us and wanting to make sure we gave these young people the best experience was very heart warming and considerate. I can’t let this moment pass without mentioning Mary Stewart, she helped hugely in getting the kids all organised to be on the buses and we could not have seen it through without her help.”
Brora Rangers 0
There was to be no fairytale at Rugby Park as Kilmarnock eased into the Scottish Cup quarter-finals with a comfortable win over Highland League Brora Rangers – but not before the Cattachs put up a tremendous first-half display in front of their 500 travelling fans.
Killie midfielder Aaron Tshibola opened the scoring with his first goal on his first start for the club.
After the break, Kris Boyd doubled the advantage with a precise finish, before Eamonn Brophy lashed in a third. Stephen O’Donnell rounded off the scoring with a shot across Brora goalkeeper Joe Malin.
There was a sense of anticipation before this encounter, with Brora playing in the last 16 of the tournament for the first time.
All the pressure was on Kilmarnock, at least according to Brora manager Ross Tokely before kick off.
Tokely kept faith with the side that brought them to this stage of the Scottish Cup while Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke made five changes from the side that beat Celtic last weekend.
Among those coming in was Leo Fasan, who replaced Jamie MacDonald in the Rugby Park goal.
New signing Tshibola, who joined Killie last month, made sure there was no denying his presence in 43 minutes. After some neat build-up play, Greg Kiltie found Tshibola with a ball across the face of the goal and the midfielder showed composure to turn the ball in from close range.
That put an end to the rapidly growing expectation that Brora could go in at the interval all square.
Brora started the second half in determined fashion and forced three well-taken corner kicks, however the second half was really all about Kilmarnock and some terrific goals.
Boyd came close to making it 2-0 as he flew in to head a corner but his effort was deflected wide. The striker did not have to wait long for his goal, though, and a delightful finish it was too. Dicker played him in and Boyd picked his spot with aplomb.
Kilmarnock brought on Brophy and he had quite an impact on the game, first forcing Malin into an excellent save with a stinging shot. But there was nothing the Brora Rangers goalkeeper could do about Brophy’s effort in 76 minutes, a rocket of a shot that flew into the net.
The home side weren’t finished, though, and O’Donnell wrapped up the win with a fine finish from distance.
While the gulf in class showed as the game progressed, Brora did themselves and the Highland League proud. They were 11 Trojan’s on the park, and the defence of John Pickles, Colin Williamson, Jamie Duff and Ally MacDonald all shone on the big stage.
Brora can be proud of their Scottish Cup journey – and their fans, hundreds of whom who set out from the village in a fleet of busses at 7am, sang and cheered their team on, and swelled the Rugby Park crowd numbers to 4260 – significantly greater than the hosts’ normal Premier League home gate.
Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke said: “Brora made it really difficult for us at times. We had to be patient and eventually the chances and the goals came.
“We knew it was going to be difficult. Brora defended really well and worked hard, as we knew they would.
“We just had to keep picking away and waiting on the chance to drop.
“Fortunately we got one just before half-time, which made it a little easier for us in the second half, but until we got the third goal, the game was very much still alive.”
Proud Brora Rangers boss Tokely said he was a ‘wee bit sad’ to come to the end of the cup road. He said: “It’s been a tremendous journey. The guys are gutted to lose by four goals.
“I didn’t think it was a 4-0 game, although Kilmarnock were the better team. We played some good stuff and competed, which is what I asked for.
“We were massive underdogs and I told the guys to play with no pressure and fear and that they could compete, no problem at all.
“I’m proud of the lads, playing against a Premiership side. The movement from Kilmarnock was excellent, they’ve got guys who are comfortable on the ball. We can learn from that, and the young lads will learn from playing against better players. We’ll come away from this much stronger as a team and I wish I wish Kilmarnock well.”