The halfway point of our journey took us to the Forthbank Stadium for a third round Scottish Cup tie between second division side Stirling Albion and Auchinleck Talbot, a junior team who currently reside in the West Region Premier Division. Kieran and I set off in afternoon sunshine but soon found ourselves somewhat bogged down in thickening fog and the almost traditional saga that is the M80 roadworks. However we arrived in good time to meet Jamie outside the stadium.
Forthbank Stadium is part of a 'sports village' (consisting of a leisure centre and football ground) just outside of Stirling and in truth it's not much to write home about, indeed the main entrance to the ground looks little more than some sort of community centre. Inside and despite the pie stall being rather small and poorly positioned the traditional pie and Bovril was adequately tasty and more importantly hot on an increasingly cold day. A bank of seating filled either side with just a couple of rows of terracing behind each goal. The few hundred Auchinlek fans had already begun to make themselves heard prior to kick off, dreaming of a league scalp and a possible big name draw in the next round.
After a moments pause pre-game to remember former Stirling manager Frank Beattie the game began in an open, vibrant manner with the junior side showing a lot of pace and purpose, particularly down the left hand side. They should've taken the lead when McIlroy found himself unmarked in the box but he blazed over and it proved to be a costly miss as just moments later Liam Corr headed the home side in front thanks to questionable marking from the visitors. However it only briefly took the wind out of the away side's sails and McIlroy atoned for his earlier miss when he coolly converted a penalty after a Stirling handball in the box. Half time, all even and all to play for.
The freezing fog had slowly descended again as the second half began and for a brief period it was perhaps doubtful if the match would finish. It did however and both sides maintained their attacking approach which was pleasing for us neutrals, perhaps not so for the others. Stirling retook the lead on 64 minutes when Ross Forsyth, unmarked in the box, nodded home - a carbon copy of their first. Auchinleck applied the pressure, desperately trying to force a replay and had several half chances as well as a desperate goalmouth scramble which saw Stirling's post rattled. The home side themselves forced a couple of cracking saves from Auchinleck's keeper. The game however somewhat petered out in the last 5 minutes and Stirling managed to edge through to the next round.
For some reason I hadn't brought my gloves or worn a second pair of socks today so it was with some relief that we got back into the car and I was able to defrost the blocks of ice that were my feet. 21 down, 21 to go…
Journey - 4
Pie - 6
Bovril - 6
Ground - 5
Game - 6