BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
As Linlithgow Rose defender Jamie McKenzie completed his lung-bursting 70-yard dash to convert a Conor Kelly cross, bringing the scoreline back to 3-2 against Forfar Athletic, one question loomed large.
Having played the majority of the second half with 10-men against SPFL opposition on a tortuously heavy Prestonfield pitch, where on Earth did he find the energy?
As with many footballing success stories, perhaps the answer is to be found in Germany.
Saturday’s breathless tie at Prestonfield looked all over as a contest when the Loons, playing against ten men following the dismissal of Gary Thom, raced into a two-goal lead early in the second half.
However, McKenzie – after spending the week battling a cold – sparked an unlikely comeback, with Graham Weir finishing the job by restoring parity 20 second later.
McKenzie’s goal was no less than he deserved for an all-action display – a feat made all the more remarkable given the player has only recently returned to the sport after a year studying abroad.
He didn’t kick a ball during more than a year and, instead, took up athletics, even training alongside some top European competitors.
Former Montrose and Sligo Rovers man said: “I’m in my final five months at Uni and spent last year studying in Germany, doing International Business. I didn’t play football at at all when I was over there.
“I took up running in Germany which kept me really fit. I enjoyed the break and trying new things.
“I was training in the same place as Olympic athletes, ultra-marathon runners – which is 100KM – and some of the top endurance athletes in the world.
“But when I came back I stepped off the plane and signed for Linlithgow straight away. It has taken me a while to get back in the swing of things, finding my feet with a ball again, but I feel like I’m getting there now.”
The dramatic draw appeared unlikely when – with the score balanced at 1-1 following first-half strikes from Michael Travis and Ruiri MacLennan – Rose endured a nightmare start to the second period.
Gary Thom bundled Scott Martin over in the box and was dismissed by referee Stephen Finnie before Iain Campbell dispatched the kick. Three minutes later Gavin Swankie made it 3-1.
“I thought we were dead. I even said to a few of the boys: ‘Look, it’s over!’,” admitted the former Hibernian youth. “I’ll be the first one to hold my hands up to say I thought it was gone.”
But it wasn’t. McKenzie gave the hosts hope with his fatigue-defying strike to halve arrears, before Weir rattled home a stunning equaliser 20 seconds later in one of the most memorable moments of this season’s competition.
The ex-Hibs youth player continued: “My goal gave us a bit of a lift, gave the crowd a boost and seemed to make their heads drop too. We had the momentum to kick on.
“I was off the pitch during the celebrations for the equaliser having a breather because I’ve been loaded with the cold! But it was an incredible atmosphere. Without a doubt the best I’ve experienced.”
The sides will do it all over again at Station Park next Tuesday as Rose seek to become the first Junior side to ever reach the fifth round, and McKenzie added: “We are going to go up there to win.”