Kelso welcomed in the New Year with a potential Scottish Cup banana skin in the shape of Musselburgh, who are riding high in National League Division Two.
The East Lothian outfit also did a serious number on Peebles, with a 47-8 victory in the last round of the cup. However, Kelso have been playing much better of late and, despite missing playmaker Andrew Skeen and forceful centre Frankie Robson, started as favourites.
Musselburgh showed why they were a force to be reckoned with in their league, with a game based around a solid scrum and an effective driven line-out. It was Kelso who opened the scoring on 10 minutes, however, when Murray Hastie slotted a penalty after the visitors failed to release a tackled player on the ground.
There followed a spot of aerial ping pong until Musselburgh were awarded a kickable penalty, which standoff Danny Owenson fluffed.
Kelso cleared their lines only for the visitors’ back three to allow the ball to bounce awkwardly. Richard Minto, on his return from injury, was the first to react and a quick pass to Mark Wilson who fed Dom Buckley allowed the latter to coast in for a try which Hastie converted.
A passage of end-to-end play ensued until Musselburgh were awarded a succession of penalties for maul offences. The referee’s patience was stretched to the limit, and Ian Wallace was invited to have a 10-minute rest, having taken one for the team. Amazingly, Musselburgh failed to capitalise on the extra man and, following a turnover after a driven line-out, Kelso pressurised the defence to such an extent that the ball went loose, and between them Andy Tait and Mark Wilson hacked the ball through for Tait to touch down at the posts. Hastie added the extras.
Kelso scored another try when Tait, Buckley and Hastie exchanged passes for Hastie to finish the move off in the corner. He slotted another fine conversion to take the score to 24-0 at the interval.
Musselburgh started the brighter of the two teams after the break and the pattern of the first half continued, with the visitors torturing the home pack, with their driven line-outs and resolute defence keeping them at bay. Dam buster and flanker Declan Slaven eventually made the touchdown, but Owenson missed the conversion.
A bout of scrappy play was followed by yellow cards to Gregg Minto and Greg Leitch, who had a slight disagreement, before Kelso increased their lead when a lengthy drive took the ball up to the visitors’ line, and Buckley was on hand to score a try which was increased in value with another fine conversion by Hastie.
With 10 minutes to go and nothing to lose, Musselburgh showed another side of their game with some fine incisive running by their backs. Centre Tom Armstrong found himself on the end of a sharp inside pass from captain Andrew Cook, and cut through a flatfooted Kelso defence. Owenson added the conversion as he did with almost the last play of the match, when Armstrong again breached the Kelso defence to score in the corner. There followed a lengthy delay after the score due to an intervention by the far side assistant referee. The result of it all was a straight red card for try scorer Armstrong, apparently for spitting, and a yellow card to Dom Buckley for retaliation.
So Kelso march on to a quarter-final in February against possibly one of the big beasts of the Premier jungle, as it is only Howe of Fife and Kelso from the lower leagues who are left in the draw.