Braves secured a South Challenge Cup semi final as they dumped out holders Auchinleck Talbot.
In what was a fiercely contested cup tie, it was goals from two players making their return to the starting lineup that did the trick for Braves.
Jamie Watson gave Braves a first half lead from close range. Bryan Boylan then levelled out of nowhere midway through the second half for Talbot before the exceptional Luke Main secured the win with a superb strike with just a few minutes to go.
That goal set up a tasty home semi final against Lowland League leaders Spartans. Gartcairn and Drumchapel will face off in the other semi.
Despite a positive opening half hour from the home side it was Talbot who created the best early chances.
The first, a one on one opportunity which was smothered brilliantly by Bernie White following a slack pass back. The second came after a clever move but the half volley from the edge of the box was blazed high and wide despite the Auchinleck attacker having space and time to take a better shot at goal following a deft lay off.
Braves capitalised on these missed Talbot chances and got their noses in front at an ideal time as Jamie Watson prodded past Leishman in the away goal with around five minutes remaining in the opening period. It was a typically instinctive strikers finish from inside the penalty box as the ball was pinged into his path following a scramble around the edge of the box.
The game went through a scrappy phase with few chances after this until Auchinleck equalised with just 20-25 minutes remaining.
A neat passing move got Talbot in behind Walker and the ball was pulled back sharply to the unmarked Boylan at the back post and his low shot squirmed under the huge frame of American keeper, White.
Braves had to weather a bit of a storm for the next 10-15 mins as the away side had the bulk of territory and pressure. The home side showed character though and began to creep back into the game as it became more stretched and end to end.
The winning goal did arrive with just under 5 mins to go as Auchinleck turned over possession at the halfway line with many players caught up the pitch. This left a gaping hole for Marc Kelly to drive at the Talbot defence and he picked out an inch perfect pass to Main on his outside and he delivered the killer blow.
An arrowed first time finish into the bottom corner from about 18 yards capped a fine performance from the powerful midfielder and in the process sparked jubilant scenes in the Braves' dugout as we booked our semi final place.
Analysis: Braves win physical battle
This was a deserved victory for Braves as we turned in a performance which was in sharp contrast to last week's display against Civil Service Strollers, one which Ricky Waddell described as "possibly the worst of the season".
Braves were full of energy and physicality from the off, ensuring they gave their Ayrshire opponents little chance to settle and build any rhythm in the game.
Across the pitch, the men in navy blue snapped into challenges and won the majority of 50/50s and second balls. There wasn't a failure in the Braves side.
This was a strong performance of the collective but the centre half pairing of Duncan and Forrester stood out... not for the first time this season.
A dominant display from both as they defended our box admirably and gave the Auchinleck attackers very little to work with, showing excellent composure in possession as well as completing their defensive duties.
Man of the Match: Luke Main
In truth, there were many candidates for man of the match but Main shone above the rest. He was everywhere, a classic box to box performance full of energy, physicality and quality on the ball. The midfielder had been out of first team action for almost a month due to suspension and his eagerness to exert his energy and influence on the game was clear for all to see from the first whistle. If anyone deserved to score the winning goal, it was him.
State of Play
We host Spartans in the next round (semi-final) of the South Challenge Cup, with match details yet to be announced.
Next weekend (Saturday 8th April), we are back to league duty as Celtic B make the trip to Alliance Park.