Edinburgh United secured their first league championship in 28 years, but they did it the hard way with goalkeeper Sinclair Inglis producing a string of second-half saves to salvage a point.
It is remarkable what the Paties Road club have achieved. Just last year, United were on the brink of going under after struggling to meet costs off the field, while on the park they finished bottom of the South Division. In less than 12 months, they have gone from a football club with little hope, to a club with their sights on the top flight of East Junior football. And it is young manager Johnny Harvey who has transformed Edinburgh’s sole junior club in just his first full season in management.
A beaming Harvey couldn’t hide his delight at full time as he paid tribute to his squad, and insisted his first trophy win as manager was just as sweet as his Scottish Junior Cup victory as a player with Bathgate Thistle in 2008.
“I can’t even sum it up in words how happy and proud I am of my players,” said Harvey, fresh from getting his hands on the South Division trophy.
“I take my hat off to these boys. They all came together at the start of this season – there was only three left from last year. The fact that we pulled these boys together and they have gelled so quickly and have actually gone on to win the league, is an unbelievable achievement. I’m over the moon. To be in management a year, and to achieve that already, is up there with winning the Scottish as a player.”
United, needing just a point to secure the title, could have got off to a dream start after just ten seconds.
Centre-back David Heggie’s ball up field found striker Matthew Hunter who darted through the centre of Whitburn’s defence but dragged a shot wide of the post.
The visitors made no mistake when presented with a second opportunity, however. Hunter’s ball into the box met the head of strike partner Kenneth Fisher who nodded goalwards, but Whitburn keeper Jordan Allan could only palm clear, and Joe Murray pounced to nod into the net after just two minutes.
United’s lead lasted less then a minute, though. The visiting defence was sleeping and Dewi Taylor twisted and turned before sliding the ball into the bottom corner past Inglis.
Whitburn, with a slim chance of promotion themselves, looked more likely to get a second as the action continued at a frantic pace with Steven Sutherland and Taylor coming close before the half hour.
Gary Brass then had a great opportunity to give the hosts the lead, but he flicked the ball across the face of goal and wide after a free-kick was floated into the box from just inside United’s half.
The home side continued to have the better of the chances early in the second half. Inglis saved from Taylor, before Brass’ weighted strike looked goal bound until Inglis dived to his left and pushed wide.
Taylor had the ball in the net for Whitburn on 55 minutes, but referee Colin Whyte chalked the goal off after it appeared Inglis had the ball in his hands and the striker had taken it off him. Five minutes later though, Taylor should have scored after Allan Scott flicked the ball over a stranded United defence but, one-on-one with Inglis, the keeper came out on top again.
Fisher had a golden opportunity to effectively seal the title for United with just ten minutes remaining though. Put through one-on-one with Allan, as the Whitburn defence claimed for offside, the striker dallied on the ball in the box and the keeper smothered at his feet.
The Premier League awaits for United.
Whitburn: Allan, Hamilton, Graham, Sneddon, Brennan, Scott, Sutherland, Wilson, King, Taylor, Brass.
Edinburgh United: Sinclair Inglis, Mack (Smith), Heggie, Gordon, Stewart (Smeaton), Christopher Inglis, Fairnie, Murray, Paterson, Hunter (McMillan), Fisher.