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East-enders Baillieston Juniors descended on Ayrshire on a brisk and cold Saturday morning to take on current Scottish Cup holders Bonnyton Thistle. Baillieston had just came off a win the weekend previous and were looking to take this form to Ayrshire in the hope of gunning down Thistle.
The difficulty of the task showed from the off as Bonnyton came out flying and could have went 3-0 up inside the first 15 minutes. Bonnyton, playing in blue, grabbed the first goal through Jordan Muir. Ewan Barrie's corner was kncoked back by David Shedden for Muir to rocket home with his left foot. The pressure only increased on Baillieston as Sam McCloskey went close and keeper Stephen Thomson having to pull off some important early saves. McCloskey did get his name on the scoresheet soon after though, making it 2-0 - keeping up his impressive goal tally so far this season. The attacking midfilder would prove to be a thorn in Baillieston's side all day long.
Bonnyton took the foot of the gas slightly and the game settled down in tempo after the explosive opening exchanges. By the half-hour mark things were much more even as we saw events go from end to end.
Shedden could have extended Bonnyton's lead as he got himself on to a loose ball at the edge of the box and hit a low and hard drive at goal - only for Thomson to make himself equal to the shot.
At the other end, Baillieston had been causing trouble from set-pieces and this danger came to the boil when Ryan Cox's corner could only be punched out to Dale Dickson 10 yards out by Dylan Caddis in the Bonnyton goal. The striker pulled the trigger with his right foot and steered the ball through a raft of players for it to nestle in the net. 2-1. Things were getting interesting now with 10 minutes until half-time and Baillieston had thoroughly deserved their goal.
Baillieston continued to press and could have equalised. Again, from a corner, Caddis came out to punch. This time his punch was good but his defence let him down as they failed to close down John Dickson on the edge of the box. Luckily for the boys in blue his volley whistled over the bar.
Baillieston were relentless in trying to find a goal before half-time to square things up and Bonnyton had to call on Andy Hunter to clear off the line on 40 minutes. Cox's delivery had been troubling Bonnyton and going into the second half they would hope to nullify his threat and go on to press themselves to secure the victory.
Half Time: Bonnyton Thistle 2-1 Baillieston Juniors
Baillieston were the ones who came out all guns blazing when the whistle blew to start the second half. The boys in black and white were working extremely hard to try and get that all-important equaliser.
A golden chance to do so came their way on 50 minutes. From a deep free-kick, James McLaughlin judged he high flight of the ball well but put too much power onto his header from 7 yards as it skimmed over the top of the bar. The impressive Dale Dickson continued to work like a terrier up top fro Baillieston and he manufactured a snap shot from the edge of the box that troubled Caddis in goal. Turning in marker, he spun and shaped to shoot before pulling the trigger on a low drive that had the ex-Killie keeper scrambling low to his right.
Then, came that 'champions quality'. Despite being virtually out of the game for the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second, Bonnyton managed to grab a decisive third goal. Kieran McCrum picked pu the ball in the centre circle and swivelled before angling a superb outside-of-foot pass to McCloskey on the wing. In behind the fullback and 1-on-1 with Thomson, McCloskey drifted into the box before floating the ball over the keeper and into the net form the corner of the area. It was a spectacular looped effort and looked to all but cement victory now, despite their being half an hour to play. But Bonnyton had given themselves somebreathing space now after being under the cosh for 20 minutes and could now express themselves more freely.
The score could have increased if it weren't for the lightning reactions of Stephen Thomson in the Baillieston goal. He made two amazing quick-fire saves - first from a header, which he scooped off the line with one hand, and the second from Muir's shot. He was beaten minutes later though as Shedden ghosted in towards the loose ball at a corner, and smashed in from close-range with a left-footed strike.
4-1 was harsh on Baillieston but for all their work sometimes the cutting edge was lacking and that remained the difference, with Bonnyton continuing to show that clinicality despite not playing their best.
The Baillieston challenge had now fell away as Bonnyton asserted their dominance. A lovely switch-ball form McCrum found Shedden on the left. The flying forward controlled superbly and burst past his marker before unleashing a half-volley at goal, which bounced wide.
Baillieston weren't done trying yet though and McCloskey was forced to clear a header off the line before Shaun Malone had his shot caught well by Caddis. Up the other end McCloksey continued to cause trouble as he nutmegged a defender before doing the 'give-and-go' with sub Craig Patterson. Patterson cross was well-placed to find the minute winger who slid in with his right foot, only for Thomson to save well and stop McCloskey in his quest for a hat-trick - for now.
With their dominance really showing, Bonnyton's McCrum fired a fierce shot just over the bar by a whisker. The chances continued as Patterson knocked the ball down for Steven Hill to run onto, only for his left-footed effort to whistle wide of the mark from the edge of the area.
Bonnyton's silky winger McCloskey did get his hat-trick with 10 minutes to go, completing the day's scoring in the process. It was a lovely team move that was started off the the ever solid and impressive Craig McLaren in defence. His pass to Chris McFadzean on the left allowed the substitute to find McCloskey on the halfway line with a ball down the line. The winger back-heel found Hill who returned the ball in good time to his on-running team mate. McCloksey cut inside and lashed a ferocvious shot at goal from 15 yards. Thomson could only get a hanf to it as the ball fizzed past him for 5-1.
Bonnyton introduced Blair Larmour and Sean Mears late on to replace Andrew Strachan and David Shedden, who had both put in great shifts and produced solid performances.
Bonnyton had a late chance to pile the misery on after good hold-up play from Hill laid in McCloskey who crossed for Barrie - but his header failed to trouble the goalie.
Baillieston had a chance of their own to make the score more respectable (possibly, even, fairer) with seconds to go but Scott McPherson's powerful drive form 20yards was saved well by Caddis.
So, when the whistle blew it was a case of 'what-if' for Baillieston who had battled hard but saw their hopes dashed on the hour mark as McCloskey and Co. began to run them ragged. Bonnyton come out from the game knowing the can play better and aware that such spells of being under pressure will not always go unpunished as they did today.
For Man of the Match, Bonnyton's Sam McCloksey takes the award. His skill and running and incisive passing was a threat all day and Baillieston struggled to cope. Steven Gregory, Craig McLaren and Andrew Strachan played well in defence along with Ryan Golightly. The introduction of Craig Patterson experience at half-time proved invaluable. For Baillieston, Dale Dickson's terrier-like work and Tevez-like presence was so impressive he didn't deserve to be on the losing side. Bonnyton march on into familiar territory in the Scottish Cup where Eastvale or Ardrossan Winton Rovers lie in wait.
This Bonnyton team has a much different look from last year's winners - with only Strachan and Patterson remaining - but the introduction of 8 of the Bellfield Royals 17s' winning team last year will prove useful, as will ex Kilmarnock players Caddis, Muir and McCrum and new additions such as McFadzean, Gregory and Barrie. Above all, they have a wealth of experience in successful management with Ian Higgins' drive and this could prove to be priceless. There will be challengers - like last year's contenders Goldenhill - as well as many more up and down the country. Despite it only being the last 16, it can't come quickly enough!
Full Time: Bonnyton Thistle 5-1 Baillieston Juniors