Auchinleck Talbot reserved one of their most lacklustre displays for one of the biggest games of the season yet still deservedly ran out winners over Largs Thistle in yesterday’s Macron Scottish Junior Cup final.

And for Mark Shankland to net a late third goal, instead of smacking a close-range shot against the crossbar after wonderful build-up play from fellow substitute Sean McIlroy, would have painted a seriously unfair picture of plucky opponents Largs Thistle.

The underdogs played tidy possession football and enjoyed long passages of play, however their complete lack of threat in attack was perhaps best summed up by the fact that Talbot goalkeeper Andy Leishman did not have a single noteworthy save to make in Junior football’s showpiece occasion.

Such was Largs’ territorial dominance that Auchinleck centre-back Craig McCracken was deemed to be the man of the match, with the sponsors’ opinion justifiably swayed by the former Ayr United defender scoring with a header just four minutes into the game.

Jamie Glasgow’s driven corner kick found McCracken rising unchallenged to power a downward header past helpless Largs keeper Danny Farrell, leaving Largs manager Stuart Davidson disappointed.

“We spoke about the dangers of Auchinleck at set plays and the need to keep things tight and play ourselves into the game, so to go 1-0 down so early on left us with an uphill task,” said Davidson.

“We had a lot of the ball, particularly in the middle third, but there’s nobody better than Talbot when it comes to defending a lead. Then they score a killer second goal on the breakaway when we have poured bodies forward searching for an equaliser.

“Today it just didn’t happen for us in and around the penalty box and the truth is we never really created a scoring chance.

“But I’m still very proud of how the guys never gave up the ghost and kept plugging away against this very good Talbot team.”

Falling a goal behind forced Largs on to the offensive and the trickery of Ben Black brought the first of the game’s four yellow cards for a late challenge by the Talbot captain Willie Lyle, as well as a stern talking to from the referee Peter Stuart for Gareth Armstrong following a blatant bodycheck on the Largs winger .

Thistle’s clever passing was making little headway against a resolute Auchinleck backline and their first shot at goal arrived after 26 minutes. Stuart Faulds fired high and wide of the target before Nikky Jamieson got on the end of a Mark Millar

corner, only to divert the ball past the post.

Totally against the run of play, Talbot doubled their advantage 39 minutes in after a ball out of defence sent Graham Wilson racing clear down the left flank. Wilson glanced up before sweeping a sublime ball across goal for striking partner Keir Samson to gleefully fire home from point-blank range.

The referee blew for half-time shortly afterwards and to their credit, Largs started the second period brightly.

Their best chance of the game arrived around the hour-mark when Black rose to send an eight-yard header wide from a Martin Orr cross.

Centre-back Creag Little was thrown up front for the closing stages, but without any success.

Indeed, this unconventional approach almost led to a third for Talbot on more than one occasion – Shankland in particular went close – before the final whistle sounded to signal Largs’ demise.

His side’s anything-but-unlucky Junior Cup triumph brought a knowing smile to Talbot boss Tommy Sloan.

“It was tough for us out there because Largs kept the ball very well and ran the guts out of us,” said Sloan. “I felt our long, hard season caught up on a few of the guys and it looked like they were out on their feet at times.

“That said, I felt we fully deserved our win because Largs, for all their clever play, never hurt us. Our greater cutting edge in the first half made all the difference.”

Beaming skipper Willie Lyle relinquished his hold on the silverware to echo his manager’s comments.

“We didn’t play as well as we can, but the fact Andy’s not had a save to make spreaks volumes.

“Winning the Cup is a great way to end the season and we can now look forward to the celebrations.”