THE William Hill Scottish Cup was kept off limits on Saturday.
That was made apparent after the door to Albion Rovers' dressing room had opened up the conversation to the club's quarter-final tie with Rangers this weekend, only for James Ward to step across the threshold and turn such discussion away as explicitly as a bouncer at a Coatbridge nightclub. The Albion Rovers manager kept cup talk behind a velvet rope.
The match on Sunday will be the first time in 80 years that his club have competed in the last eight of the competition, but Ward's mood had been affected instead by more recent history; a league defeat by Montrose on Saturday. The coming days will be dominated by external interest in a cup tie involving Rangers and Ward was careful to remind his players first of their responsibilities to an SPFL League 2 campaign in which they are five points outside the promotion play-off places.
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The Wee Rovers still have a big job ahead of them and there are parallels between the bread and butter of a league season and Sunday's gourmet cup tie, since the side must compete against its own limitations in both. These were paraded at the weekend on the north-east coast. Rovers were unreliable in attack, having Mark McGuigan twinned with Ryan Donnelly, a striker whose promise once brought him a trial at Wigan Athletic but which on Saturday delivered him to Links Park. And only until the break.
Donnelly is cup tied for the trip to Ibrox, having spent the first half of the season at Brechin City, and it is likely that Chris Dallas - who replaced the striker at half-time - will start instead against Rangers. It was his cross which allowed Gary Phillips to put Rovers in front at the weekend. It was a lead surrendered to a Montrose side which took advantage through goals from Scott Johnston and Terry Masson. "We didn't do the basics," said Ward. "The three best chances of the game were ours."
Two of them fell to McGuigan, a former Partick Thistle forward who tries to adhere to a maxim: nice touch for a big guy. The 25-year-old can often appear relaxed when put under pressure by a defender, given his assured close control, but he was erratic in front of goal against Montrose. He drilled a shot past a post late on despite being flanked by two team-mates. "We just weren't at it here," added Ward. "Sorry I'm not much fun."
The glitz of a cup tie at Ibrox might soon brighten his mood.