by KEVIN CRAIGENS
at Victoria Park
PAUL DAVIES spent the days before Newmains’ cup clash wondering if his squad needed freshened up.
By the end of their dramatic loss to EK Thistle he wouldn’t have changed his players for the world.
United might have exited the West of Scotland Cup at the second round stage.
But they were in inspired form for long spells and led the League One side 2-0 and 3-1.
Co-boss Davies was left shocked at the nature of their 3-0 League Two loss to Saltcoats Victoria a week earlier.
He was gutted not to see things out in a game of two halves against Thistle but the performance left him optimistic for the weeks ahead.
Davies said: “It’s a hard and disappointing result to take and the boys are hurting. After last week’s game I was thinking about how we changed things?
“What did we need to do? Did we need to bring in different personnel to improve things? But our first half performance against East Kilbride was absolutely outstanding.
“If we can play against teams like that in our league then we will not be far away.”
Make no mistake, this was an outstanding display from a United side that had dumped Championship side Whitletts Victoria out on penalties in the first round.
But despite scoring three times they ultimately paid for not taking their chances. It took less than sixty seconds for them to take the lead when Michael Barton fired home.
Another giantkilling was on the cards when they doubled their advantage eight minutes later. United won possession in the middle of the East Kilbride half and a neat throughball sent Adam Robertson clear to slot home.
Newmains continued to bomb forwards but they couldn’t make the most of their openings. East Kilbride made them pay as Andy Morgan pulled one back in the 26th minute. But on a dreich day in North Lanarkshire it didn’t dampen the home side’s mood.
Either side of half-time they saw a header deflected wide and a shot sail over EK keeper Ross Meldrum – and just over the bar.
But United finally restored their two-goal lead on the hour. A loose passback was seized on by David Banks who was upended by Meldrum. Banks dusted himself down then kept his cool to convert from the spot.
That was the signal for EK Thistle to begin their comeback though as top scorer Jonny Diack made it 3-2 then Matt Gray levelled.
EK went in front for the first time when Diack grabbed another before Paul Byrne rubbed salt into the Newmains wounds with a stunning free-kick.
Davies reckons United paid for not being clinical enough – and for conceding soft fouls. He added: “East Kilbride took every chance they created. They were hard to play against. When they got on top they made it difficult.
“It was absolutely a tale of two halves. We gave away three stupid free-kicks in the second half which were unnecessary and they punished us. One free-kick they had was unstoppable but we should have dealt with the rest.”