SPARTANS striker Keith McLeod’s rich vein of form continued as he made it five goals in his last three matches to condemn Preston Athletic to a 4-0 defeat at Ainslie Park.
The veteran frontman, 35, netted a hat-trick against the East Lothian outfit to take his goal tally for the Capital club to a remarkable 251 in just 13 seasons – a milestone that has surpassed even his own expectations.
McLeod said: “I never expected a hat-trick but sometimes you just get that feeling it’s going to be your day. I am proud of the record and something I probably couldn’t have imagined. Hopefully I’ll get even more as I want to keep playing and scoring goals so I’m not going to hang up my boots just yet.”
Opponents Preston on the other hand, looking to atone for their demoralising 9-2 defeat at home to Whitehill Welfare the previous weekend, appeared short on confidence from the first whistle and were often too quick to surrender possession with several misplaced passes.
Manager David Bingham cited individual errors as his main cause for concern during the opening few weeks of the season and it would appear those frailties have once again reappeared with McLeod’s first effort gifted to him by defender Marc Cherrie after just ten minutes. The Preston player’s attempted pass back to goalkeeper Liam Robertson was well short of its intended target and the Spartans No.10 capitalised by taking control of the ball before knocking it beyond Robertson at his near post from ten yards to put the hosts ahead.
The Spartans players could sense their opponents’ naivety and were on the attack just moments later when a neat interchange up the right put Gary Cennerazzo in the clear, but Robertson, this time, stood his ground and blocked well with both feet to deny the defender. Preston were camped inside their own half and as a result, their frustrations threatened to get the better of the players in blue.
Willie Bremner and McLeod both passed up further opportunities to increase the home side’s slender lead before the interval, but Spartans were forced to settle for just McLeod’s solitary strike at the break.
However, seven minutes into the second half, Robertson’s long clearance was headed back towards goal by Kevin Motion and McLeod nipped in behind the Preston rearguard, skilfully allowing the ball to come across his body before dropping his shoulder and placing the ball into the bottom right corner.
Bremner stuck a rasping effort from distance which Robertson reacted brilliantly to tip the ball over the crossbar before Motion headed just over from McLeod’s teasing cross. Jack Beacher then ensured all three points with a third after 65 minutes when he weaved himself between Keiran Dodd and Cherrie to shoot across goal and in via Robertson’s left-hand post.
McLeod then rattled the crossbar before completing his hat-trick 20 minutes from time. Motion’s long free-kick into the Preston penalty box appeared to be going out of play, but the ball was superbly retrieved and hooked back across goal by Daniel Main for McLeod to head into the back of the empty net for goal number four.
Michael Osborne had the visitors’ only shot on target ten minutes from time in what was another sorry afternoon for the men from the Pennypit who will need to regroup ahead of their home game with Gala Fairydean Rovers on Saturday.Spartans manager Dougie Samuel, pictured left, was pleased with the commitment and endeavours from his players, but offered particular praise for his star striker McLeod.
He said: “It was an excellent team performance considering the starting XI we put out as they’ve never lined up in that way before. We’ve shown we’ve got good strength in the squad and versatility..
Of McLeod’s goals tally, he said: “It will never be matched. It’s not just the volume of goals, it’s all types of goals he’s scored in numerous big games over the years. He’s set a standard that will inspire future strikers here for many generations to come.”
Spartans: Bennett, Mackinnon, Cennerazzo, Sivewright, Main, Bremner (Atkinson 81), Brown (Blaikie 84), Motion, Beacher (O’Day 70), McLeod, Beesley. Subs: MacCuish, Gilpin.
Preston Athletic: Robertson, Dodd, O’Hara, Cherrie, Morrison, Moore (Cunningham 65), Philp (McCormack 59), Ramsay, Martin, Osborne (Reilly 80), Devlin. Subs: Stewart, Foster.