IRVINE MEADOW are no strangers to false dawns on the Scottish Junior Cup front in the 41 years since they last lifted the trophy.

And it could be argued expectations are even higher among their long-suffering supporters when cup fever has been fuelled by the dazzling performances of Stevie Rankin's men.

Those dreams must have soared to an all-time high in the wake of Saturday's 2-1 semi-final first-leg victory over Hurlford United despite those oft-praised Medda players serving up their worst display of the season.

Defeat looked on the cards going in at the interval trailing 1-0, but second-half free-kick goals from Mark Thomson and Darren Miller gave the Irvine outfit an undeserved advantage going into next weekend's second leg.

Hurlford will rue the fact they did not capitalise on catching their Super Premier rivals having the mother of all off-days.

Even the absence of cornerstone defender Neil McGregor failed to detract from a visiting performance that saw them overwhelm their hosts in a 45-minute purple patch orchestrated by Stevie Masterton and Paul "Taz" McKenzie bossing the midfield .

The latter's 28-yard drive that found the net in 34 minutes came after he had struck the upright with another shot and was scant reward for his side's first- half play.

A large slice of credit for keeping their opponents at bay belongs to Medda centre backs Mark Staunton and Mark Twaddle.

Medda boss Stevie Rankin admitted: "That first 45 minutes was an absolute shocker. We were held together by the two Marks standing strong and physical.

"Thankfully we produced a better performance level after the break but we were still nowhere near our best."

Medda earned parity after the break helped by central midfielders Thomson and Miller pushing further upfield, letting Shaun Fraser get at Hurlford's back line. One sortie in the 50th minute saw Fraser felled just outside the box to earn a free kick that Thomson despatched into the bottom corner of Ally Brown's net.

Brown then had nobody but himself to blame with 10 minutes left for allowing Miller's stunning winner from fully 35 yards to squirm beyond him off the upright to give Medda a 2-1 lead.

United gaffer Darren Henderson said: "At the start of the season I'd have bitten your hand off to be just a goal down and with a home game to play in order to get into the Scottish Cup Final so next week ­cannot come soon enough."

Meanwhile a 2-1 scoreline sufficed in the other semi-final yesterday as East Region hopefuls Camelon came out on top against Glenafton on a tricky Carmuirs Park.

The Ayrshiremen's dream start through a Cameron Marlow goal inside three minutes was wiped out by a Colin Leiper prod midway through the half and the first-leg advantage was handed to Camelon by Craig Menzies putting through his own goal with 10 minutes left.