Dunfermline 27 Stirling County 38, National League Cup, second round

PROUD Dunfermline head coach Gavin Emerson saluted the efforts of his players after they ran Stirling County close in the National League Cup.

The McKane Park club's first XV, who play in National League Division Four, were edged out by their illustrious opponents, who play in National League Division Two, after a keenly-competitive 80 minutes on Saturday.

The hosts found themselves in front during the first half after scoring a converted try, after Stirling had crossed without adding the extras, but despite crossing the whitewash on three more occasions, it wasn't to be for Dunfermline.

"I was over the moon with how we played," Emerson told Press Sport. "I honestly believe we could've won that game.

"Stirling County, as I expected, were ferocious at the breakdown. They caused us a lot of problems but our guys actually dealt with it really well. We were aggressive, we were putting our bodies on the line - it was like a different beast to how I've ever seen the boys in terms of the physicality department.

"They caused a lot of problems but we didn't lose the ball many times in the breakdown, which then added to how well we played across the field. Our set piece, scrum, lineout, worked effectively. We held them in the scrum, sometimes we got the better of them in the scrum, but a massive shout out has to go to our front row because they all played 80 minutes.

Dunfermline Press: Dunfermline's performance pleased their head coach.Dunfermline's performance pleased their head coach. (Image: David Wardle.)

"Stirling County are a very fit team. They moved us around the park a lot and our guys, at times, were blowing, but we held it and we regathered. The guys were out on their feet at the end of the game, they were exhausted, but we played, across the ranks, with just sheer passion and belief."

Emerson continued: "I just asked them to go and give a good account of ourselves and they absolutely did that.

"The fans, the crowd, everyone was probably shocked. They kind of expected it, but we hadn't really performed like that this season, how capable we are, and that we could hold our own in that department.

"It was brilliant because it could've went two ways. The boys could've just thought it's Stirling County, they're a massive club, they're in a good league, they're going to drill us, but, as soon as we kicked off, the boys just got stuck into them and played really, really well.

"Had we had a couple more of our stronger players available, it could've been an even closer match. The result, an 11-point deficit, probably doesn't pay justice to how the game went.

"We scored again at the end. Although our boys were absolutely knackered, I feel that had we had five more minutes, we could've probably gone a little bit more at them, possibly got some more scores because we were in control.

"We missed a couple of kicks which could've brought the score even closer, but Stirling County had to work for that result.

"We're looking forward to next season's cup already. The boys from that have hopefully taken away a couple of personal things they need to work on. Number one is the fitness, because our skills and our patterns were all there.

"It was just a real good day at the club. When we got a bit of a lead I was thinking we could do this - it might be one of those dramatic cup scenes that you see movies made of, and that we turned over Stirling County, but they certainly would leave with some work to do for the later rounds of the cup, definitely.

"I'm really proud of the guys. They've put together a performance we've been looking for."

Dunfermline go to Strathmore next Friday to finish off their league season, and Emerson is hopeful that the performances level shown against Stirling is the bar that they have set themselves.

Although the result didn't go our way, for us, it was a victory," he added.

"It really was, but what we also said to the boys is that's the next benchmark now. That's what we expect - we need to go ahead of that.

"That's maybe putting a little bit more positive thoughts going into our final game against Strathmore a week on Friday.

"It was unreal. It really was good. For us, we got so much from that game, it was great."