Paul Hartley reckons Cove Rangers have shown they can compete at a higher level by taking the Scottish Cup scalp of Alloa Athletic – and earning a crack at Premiership leaders Rangers.
Ryan Strachan’s late free-kick earned Cove a spectacular 3-2 win over the Championship side, in a game where the Aberdeen outfit had to come behind twice away from home.
It is the first time Cove have beaten a team from the top two tiers of Scottish football and earns them a place in the third round of the competition – although it is unclear when the game will take place after this season’s cup was today paused due to Covid-19.
Although disappointed no Cove fans will likely be able to make the trip to Govan for the Rangers game, Hartley is glad to see everyone at the club rewarded for their efforts.
He said: “It’s a brilliant draw, we wanted a big, glamour tie.
“Going to Ibrox is exciting for all of those people at the club, especially the chairman, who have worked for many years to get us to where we are now.
“It’s also great for the Cove players who haven’t had the opportunity to play at Ibrox before.
“The only downside is there will be no fans there to watch it.
“It’s obviously a huge challenge too because Rangers are the country’s form team at the moment.
“It’s one we are looking forward to though because you want to test yourself against the best.”
Hartley believes Cove win over Alloa, who play in the division above them, shows the ascendant Granite City outfit shows “a lot about our team”.
He said: “It shows you that Cove can compete. I felt the game suited us, the expansive way Alloa wanted to play. They’re a good passing team and we felt if we could cope with their threat, we could hurt them in the final third.
“It’s a good scalp for us. I know they’re near the bottom of the Championship so for us to beat them shows a lot about our team.
It was also Cove’s first win in the competition since 2017-18, when they made it to the round of 16. On that occasion they were put out by Falkirk – then managed by Hartley.
Alloa took the lead first through Alan Trouten, with the experienced midfielder netting from the penalty spot, before Jamie Masson dragged Cove level.
Cameron O’Donnell had the Wasps back in front again before half-time and it was a lead they held until the final 15 minutes, when Rory McAllister grabbed their second equaliser of the game.
Extra-time would have beckoned for the two sides had the scores remained the same, however, Strachan intervened – his first goal of the season – to take Cove through to the third round in dramatic fashion.
Hartley added: “I thought we were terrific. We dominated the game from start to finish and we’re pleased to be in the hat for the next round.
“It’s an outstanding strike from (Ryan) Strachan, 25 yards out. Brilliant technique. I felt our play deserved that. From the first whistle we controlled the game.
“We went in 2-1 at half-time and weren’t too disappointed. We said to keep probing, keep working the ball and we’d get more opportunities. We kept believing we could win the game.
“The gameplan that the players produced was outstanding. We knew we’d get another opportunity and we just had to take it when it came.”
Cove added Hearts duo Connor Smith and Cammy Logan on loan at the end of last week and both youngsters were on the bench at the Indodrill Stadium on Saturday.
Hartley added: “They’ll bring a bit of energy. Connor really impressed us last year at Cowdenbeath and has been at Arbroath as well.
“They’ll enhance the squad. They’ve got a lot of energy and speed about their play and they know what we’re about now they’ve watched.
“This is not an easy league and not an easy team to get in. We’ve got some good players here – you don’t just walk into the team. You’ve got to earn the right.”