THIS was, at a glance, a resounding win for in-form Kilmarnock against League One Montrose but it was so much more than that. 

It was a game where the Angus side more than matched their Premiership hosts and could count themselves unlucky to head back up the A9 for the second time in little under 48 hours with only a late Cammy Ballantyne consolation to show for their efforts.

Instead, it was Kilmarnock, suddenly a team of fortitude and flair, who prevailed to secure a place in the quarter finals but all the credit belonged to Stewart Petrie’s men. 

Given they’d clocked up more than 350 miles and been on the end of a 5-0 hiding this week, it was no surprise to see some freshness in the Montrose line-up. Harry Cochrane and Chris Mochrie were among the changes from the Partick Thistle defeat and their brief seemed to be to bring some effervescence to the visitors’ play.

This seemed a smart move and in contrast to Kilmarnock’s midfield, which had its usual reliance on a triumvirate of players pushing their way to their mid-30s. Still, the home side, with their new found swagger, trusted themselves to match the teenagers.

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Mostly, they did just that, albeit Montrose started brightly. Mochrie danced away from Alan Power with a clever turn, Cochrane seemed at ease on the ball, and Russell McLean - practically a veteran at 22 - did enough with his sheer presence to unease Zech Medley and Kirk Broadfoot. But it wasn’t long until Killie found their stride and the lead.

It was a goal which, for much of the season, you’d have doubted Kilmarnock capable of scoring. With the flick of Youssouf Mulumbu’s boot and the ease of Chris Burke’s right foot, the home side toyed with their guests, pulling at the Montrose threads until a Greg Kiltie sized gap appeared. Off he scampered into the box, dragging Allan Fleming out of his goal, and in the end Kyle Lafferty was left with an easy tap-in just seven minutes in.

For a time, this seemed to deflate the visitors while up turned Kilmarnock the tempo, Tommy Wright’s men assuming a stranglehold of the ball, twisting and turning, always probing and soon it was 2-0. 

A remarkable double save from Fleming - where the goalkeeper acrobatically recovered to punch a stinging drive away at the second attempt - kept them at bay, only for the incessant pressure to tell when Andrew Steeves deflected a Burke cross into his own goal. That could so easily have been that and had Kiltie or Mitch Pinnock found the right side of the net with two quick jabs shortly after, it surely would have been. 

But just as Montrose seemed to be crumbling, they found a new lease of life, ending the half the stronger of the two sides. There was verve to their play and a lovely interchange opened a gap for Lewis Milne to dart in behind Killie’s sluggish backline, only for his cut back to be prodded wastefully wide by the dangerous McLean, before Cochrane glided into space, picked up a loose ball, and pinged it just wide of Colin Doyle’s post. 

As half-time came and went, Kilmarnock had a decision to make: conserve energy for the relegation fight or go for the jugular? Or, in Medley’s case, go for the surprise third option of trying to keep things interesting?

The Arsenal loanee had already been hounded by Wright for dallying in the first-half, but just minutes into the second he did the same. This time he turned straight into Milne and, to his horror, sent the winger charging towards Doyle’s goal. 

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Perhaps Milne had too much time but rather than finding a corner he sent a simple chip straight at the Killie goalkeeper. The angst of the visitors’ bench said it all. It felt like a must score chance at the time and so it proved.

The game, as a contest, was ended when Kiltie sniffed out a third Killie goal, pouncing on a loose ball after Lafferty chased down Fleming to block the goalkeeper’s slack clearance straight into his teammate’s path. 

Montrose kept looking and impressing but, despite Ballantyne’s excellent late finish, this was just a stage too far.