Paul Hartley has urged Cove Rangers to use competing well with Premiership Kilmarnock in their 2-0 Scottish Cup defeat as fuel to push them to a play-off place.
League One Cove were more than a match for their top-flight opponents in the first half at Rugby Park and could have taken an early lead when Rumarn Burrell saw his goal-bound effort hacked off the line by Fraser Murray.
It looked like Cove would go into half-time on level terms, before being dealt a cruel blow a minute before the break.
After Will Gillingham had deflected Matty Kennedy’s shot away for a corner, the visitors conceded from the resultant set-piece. Corrie Ndaba nodded the ball into the path of Marley Watkins, who stabbed home from close-range.
Killie were much livelier after the break and put the game beyond reach when Danny Armstrong drilled past Cove keeper Nicholas Suman with 10 minutes remaining.
“Credit to the players, they were positive – we knew it was going to be tough coming here against a good Kilmarnock team who are very strong at home,” Hartley – whose team are currently third in League One – said.
“We’ve got to dust ourselves down and get on with the league business – our challenge is to get into the play-offs with 13 games remaining.
“We’ve got to take the positives from the game and really kick-on now.
“It’s the business end of the season and we want to get into the play-offs. It’s a tight league and it’s tight for that top-four spot.
“We’ve showed what we can do against a quality team that are the fourth-best team in Scotland at this moment in time.”
— Scottish Gas Scottish Cup (@ScottishCup) February 10, 2024
Hartley admits to having cast an envious eye at the Kilmarnock bench as home boss Derek McInnes was able to introduce a number of key players to help turn the tie in his side’s favour.
Armstrong blasted home the decisive second goal just two minutes after being introduced.
Hartley added: “You look at Kilmarnock’s team, especially at the top end of the pitch and the subs that they can bring on – I’d love to have that luxury of bringing that quality on.
“We’ve not got a big squad, but we have to go again next week.”
Top-scorer Burrell was gutted not to find the net against his former club, but is certain the Balmoral side have what it takes to finish the season strongly.
Burrell, who has found the net 21 times since joining from Falkirk in the summer, said: “I think we can definitely get to the play-offs and look to head to the Championship.
“I was surprised when the ball came at me. I thought I need to hit this on target and not sky it or anything like that.
“I made a good connection with it, though I think it was too good and it just went straight, so I was a bit bummed-out by that, but I’ll keep going.”
Cove are back in league action on Saturday when they visit fellow play-off hopefuls Alloa.
Elgin City end away hoodoo with late win at Spartans
Substitute Mitchell Taylor was the injury-time hero as Elgin picked up their first win on the road this season – beating Spartans 2-1 at Ainslie Park to move sixth in League Two.
Taylor, only introduced with 15 minutes remaining, was in the right place at the right time – deflecting a Brian Cameron shot into the net to send his teammates, management and the hearty band of Elgin supporters who had made the trek south into delirium.
Elgin boss Allan Hale described Tuesday’s defeat at Bonnyrigg Rose as “well short of standard”, but this was a different day, as he enthused: “I thought we were excellent. We knew we were going to concede possession, but when we didn’t have possession our tactical discipline was excellent and the ability to cover space was excellent.
“I don’t think Spartans have created much in the game at all. Some would argue we haven’t either, but we always sensed the opportunity would be there for us to go and take our chances and we have done that with practically the last kick of the game, so I am delighted.
“A lot has been spoken about our away record and I don’t try and focus on that – I focus on turning our home form into away form.
“There may not be a harder ground to come to. Spartans are an excellent team, but hopefully the players can take confidence from that today, not just from the result, but from a really controlled performance.”
In the first half, the only shot on target came from Elgin’s Russell Dingwall, but his low effort from the edge of the box was comfortably saved by home keeper Blair Carswell.
Elgin were unlucky not to take the lead 55 minutes in when Keith Bray saw his header come back off the post.
The opener would come eight minutes later as an Elgin corner was cleared only as far as Mark Gallagher on the edge of the box, and he curled into the top right corner.
The lead would only last six minutes, as Spartans’ prolific marksman Blair Henderson got on the end of a Cameron Russell free-kick to head his side level.
However, despite this blow, Elgin stuck to their task well, nullifying any pressure and always looked dangerous on the break before Taylor’s 93rd-minute heroics finally broke their away hoodoo.
Hale added: “You talk about not giving up a goal after scoring. And I think it was six minutes after we score we give one away and you think at that point, based on historical results, the heads might drop and we may not continue to close down the spaces – but they didn’t and the players deserved the win.”