RUSSELL LATAPY made his much-anticipated debut for Edinburgh City in their William Hill Scottish Cup second round tie, but even his polished silky soccer skills could not prevent the home side losing out to the one defensive mistake that the City rearguard made during the entire 90 minutes.
Hibs legend Latapy had not played competitive football since finishing with Falkirk in 2009 but his first touch, his ability to create space coupled with his eye for an opening, and his sublime passes were exquisite for the larger than normal crowd of 775, many of whom had gone to the game simply to see the former Trinidad and Tobago internationalist in action.
Asked about the standard of football played in the cup tie Latapy replied: “A lot of people talk about non-league football in Scotland as being about rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in but that was not the case. Two good football teams tried to get the ball down and pass it around. We thought that we had a chance although we were up against a good, experienced team and the last ten minutes of the game showed that.”
Latapy’s involvement in the action began early when his pass with the outside of his boot set up Douglas Gair who was robbed on the edge of the Irvine Meadow penalty box.
However, on the bobbly Meadowbank surface, the visitors came closest to opening the scoring when a David Hamilton shot bounced awkwardly in front of City goalkeeper Andrew Stobie and the ball rebounded from his chest back to Hamilton whose second attempt was magnificently stopped by Stobie low on the ground.
Immediately after the save City created their best opportunity of the afternoon when Latapy threaded a pass to Robbie Ross and, with only Michael Wardrope in the Irvine Meadow goal to beat, the normally reliable striker pulled his shot wide of the far post.
The City back four were in immense form and Irvine Meadow struggled to get behind them and became more and more frustrated, as did their fans in an atmospheric Meadowbank Stadium. Neither team created any clear-cut chances although a Latapy cross was hit first time by Ian McFarland but it sailed high over the cross bar.
Irvine Meadow started the second half strongly and took the game to City. It was, however, an unfortunate error in the 58th minute that eventually cost City the game.
A long diagonal ball into the right-wing position appeared to be under the control of Ruaraidh Scott who had plenty of time but he was closed down by Richard Barr who made space for a quick cross which David McGeown, the former Hearts player, hit from eight yards and even then the ball took a wicked deflection before it nestled into the net.
City tried to get back on level terms with a Robbie Ross header which landed on the roof of the net and the striker then hit the side-netting after more good work by Latapy. In stoppage time City were denied the equaliser they deserved when a Latapy free-kick was headed back by Michael Dick to Robbie Ross whose header was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Wardrope to seal City’s fate.
“I love football,” said Latapy. “If my involvement with Edinburgh City allows me to point kids in the right direction then I am more than happy to do that. I have commitments but I do have a lot of free time and I am happy to be involved. It is a case of me moving back and forth and doing the things I need to do abroad.
“My legs are feeling okay and I think that for the first 70 minutes I was all right but the last 20 were a bit harder. It’s always a buzz for me to be in the dressing-room with the lads and the warm-up and the banter that goes with it.
“Hibs will always hold a special place for me. It’s the club that introduced me to Scottish football and I had a wonderful time at Easter Road. I have good relationships with the fans and I feel at home in Edinburgh. The Hibs fans turned up at Meadowbank on Saturday and I really appreciated their efforts.”
Gary Jardine, Edinburgh City’s co-manager, said: “Russell’s contribution was fantastic. I don’t think that he gave the ball away in the entire 90 minutes. It has given everybody at the club a lift with him being around.”
Edinburgh City: Stobie, Cennerazzo, K Ross (Howat, 68), Harrison, Scott, McFarland (McFarlane, 62), Devlin, Gair (Dick, 78), R Ross, Latapy, Vanson. Subs: Macnamara, Mackintosh.
Irvine Meadow: Wardrope, Miller, Ryan, McDonald, McGowan, McGuinness, Fleming (McLennan, 89), McGeown, Barr (Strain, 84), Hughes (Turner, 84), Hamilton. Subs: Niven, Hewitt.
Edinburgh City 0 Irvine Meadow 1.
By Alan Robertson (Sunday Mail).
RUSSELL LATAPY made a dramatic return to Scottish football yesterday - but his dream debut almost went up in smoke before a whistle was even blown.
The Trinidad and Tobagao legend's hired car overheated on the motorway between his home in Falkirk and the capital.
Only a rescue mission by City Under-19s coach Jim Brown saved the star from a spell on the hard shoulder.
And the former Hibs ace arrived at Meadowbank just in time to greet the fanfare surrounding his visit back to Scottish shores as the Sky Sports cameras turned on and the crowds poured in.
Come the final whistle, though, standing at the side of the M9 may have proved more enjoyable as David McGeown spoiled the party with a second-half strike to send Irvine into the third round.
Latapy said: "I gave Jim a call and he came and picked me up.
"I wanted to go out and try to do the best that I could for the team, have fun and pass on some of the knowledge and experience to some of the young kids.
"And I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that."
Latapy jets off to Las Vegas next week to join former Trinidad team-mate Dwight Yorke in his 40th birthday celebrations.
He said: "I have commitments in Portugal and at other places. But I'm happy to be involved in my free-time."
Barely 150 punters made the trip to see City batter Brora 3-0 in the first round of the Scottish Cup four weeks ago. Yesterday, five times that number took to their seats in the City stand.
Two buses made the trip to Meadowbank and fans were less than pleased with what they witnessed before the break as midfield maestro Latapy enjoyed space to roam.
But Edinburgh keeper Andrew Stobie could do nothing to stop Irvine in 59 minutes.
Richie Barr pressed down the right to find McGeown who slipped in behind Ruaraidh Scott to poke home from six yards out.