Talbot, who won the trophy in 2022 but were dumped out of the competition by Cumnock Juniors last season, made it safely through to the semi-finals of this season’s tournament on Saturday with a comprehensive 3-0 win over East Ayrshire rivals Hurlford United.
With just one point and two places separating the sides in the Premier Division, many were predicting a close game, but Connor Boyd’s 38th-minute strike gave Tommy Sloan’s men the interval advantage and the hosts ran out comfortable winners in the end.
Things might have been different had a dubious-looking offside flag not denied Ally Love a headed equaliser for the Ford just before the break, but Talbot took full advantage of that let-off, with Luke Gillies doubling their lead early in the second half and Kyle McAvoy beating the visitors’ offside trap to put the icing on the cake in stoppage time.
The prospect of an all-East Ayrshire final remains on the cards after Darvel saw off the competition’s last East Coast representatives, Lochee United, by the same score at Recreation Park; skipper David Syme’s strike from distance was enough to put Tony McInally’s men in front at half-time, before Stephen Bronsky’s header and a late Ross Caldwell strike completed the scoring.
Awaiting the two Ayrshire rivals in the last four are Johnstone Burgh, who edged out St Cadoc’s on penalties after a 3-3 draw, and Arthurlie, who reached their first Junior Cup semi-final since 2007 thanks to a 2-1 victory at Bellshill.
For the rest of Ayrshire’s clubs Saturday was all about the search for league points – and among the day’s results there were few surprises bigger than lowly Troon’s 3-2 win at home to reigning champions Beith.
Logan Smith’s close-range strike and a Mark Shankland header had Jimmy Kirkwood’s men 2-0 up inside half an hour at Portland Park, but Evan Dunne halved the deficit before the break.
Carlo Monti’s free kick on 84 minutes looked to have earned Chris Strain’s men a comeback draw, only for Kyle Gilroy to snatch a dramatic, and potentially priceless, three points for the Seasiders in stoppage time.
Beith’s defeat meant that Cumnock climbed into second place in the table, albeit with more games played than anyone else in the top flight; Murdo MacKinnon’s men are now seven games unbeaten after Findlay Frye and Allan MacKenzie scored in the 2-1 win away to Benburb.
At the other end of the table, bottom dogs Irvine Meadow ended a horrendous run without a league win stretching back to the end of September, with Ben Carson picking up his first victory since taking over the reins at Meadow Park in December after Euan Baird’s brace earned a 2-1 win at home to Pollok.
Carson’s reshaped Medda squad still have a hefty deficit to turn around if they’re to avoid relegation from the top flight – and it’s looking like the same might apply to Glenafton after Ryan Caddis’s men were beaten 3-2 at home by Largs Thistle.
With New Cumnock native Sir Tom Hunter watching on after officially opening the renovated Hunter Pavilion and Sir Tom Hunter Suite at Loch Park, all was looking good for Glens after Liam Caddis added to Michael Moffat’s goal just before the break.
But the visitors pulled one back almost immediately through Will Sewell, and after Moffat was sent off, Liam Lapsley levelled before Sewell’s late penalty won it for Largs.
The day’s surprise results continued in the First Division, where Kilwinning Rangers saw their promotion push suffer a setback in a 2-1 defeat at home to lowly Thorniewood; Bryan Boylan’s header gave Buffs the lead early in the second half, but it all turned sour from there, with Keiren Wood sent off before Blair McDonald’s double won it for the Lanarkshire side.
Kilbirnie Ladeside, meanwhile, were providers, rather than sufferers, of another of the day’s second tier surprises, with Ryan Connelly netting a double and Scott Lewis, Alex Bell and Danny Bamford also on target as the Blasties thrashed promotion-chasing Rutherglen Glencairn 5-0 at the Hamish B. Allan Stadium.
But Maybole slipped further back into the relegation mire, with the Ladywell Park side now on a run of just one win in 10 after losing by the odd goal in five at home to Shotts Bon Accord.
Gavin Friels will be delighted that the day’s run of surprise results didn’t stretch as far as Winton Park, where his seemingly unstoppable Ardrossan Winton Rovers side made it a remarkable 12 wins in a row in all competitions after seeing off bottom side Wishaw 3-0 to maintain their 15-point lead at the top of the Second Division.
Aidan Ferris took just five minutes to open the scoring for the hosts, with David Gray following up to net the rebound after his penalty was saved before Chris Craig’s injury-time free kick completed the win.
Craigmark, meanwhile, stopped the rot after three straight defeats, with Ross McCrea scoring both goals as Ian Nixon’s men defeated Maryhill 2-1 at Lochburn Park.
All three of the local sides in Third Division action had to settle for a share of the spoils; Kevin Adam was the scorer for Irvine Vics as Dougie MacDuff’s men came from behind to draw at home to Threave Rovers, while Ayrshire rivals Girvan and Ardeer Thistle drew a blank at Hamilton Park.
And while Kello Rovers may still be bottom, they’re also still refusing to go down without a fight after holding third-top Vale of Leven to a 1-1 draw at Millburn Park.
In the Fourth Division, the eagerly-anticipated North Ayrshire derby clash between Saltcoats Vics and Eglinton finished goalless at Campbell Park – but Lugar Boswell Thistle remain the leading Ayrshire chargers in the bottom tier thanks to a hard-fought 3-2 win at home to bottom side Campbeltown Pupils, with Jack Marks and Kieran Oliver on target for the Jaggy Bunnets before Jamie Donnelly’s 88th-minute winner.