High stakes as top two take run-in down to the wire

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Spartans, champions of the Central Taxis Premier Division for the past three seasons, have the opportunity to again lift the coveted title when they travel to meet second-placed Stirling University at Gannochy Sports Centre (kick-off 2.30) tomorrow.

Spartans lead the students by three points with both teams having played the same number of games, and a victory for Spartans would give them an unassailable six-point advantage with only one game remaining for each club.

The Ainslie Park outfit were handed a bonus in midweek when Stirling lost 2-1 at home to Edinburgh City.

“That result was not a surprise,” stressed the Spartans co-manager, Mike Lawson. “City beat us 3-1 only a few weeks ago and that is the beauty of our league this season as any team is capable of beating any other and that has not been the case in recent seasons.

“The standard of all the teams has been so much higher this season and that has meant we have had a very competitive league. Although City beat Stirling, that result has not changed our philosophy for tomorrow – we still know that we want to go to Stirling and win, just as we did before City beat them. We certainly don’t want to be going into our last game of the season against Whitehill Welfare at Ferguson Park needing a win to clinch the title.”

Although Spartans have a slightly better goal difference of plus-three that would change dramatically if Stirling University were to win tomorrow and their last game of the campaign is away to Vale of Leithen.

Spartans were also involved in midweek action when they defeated Whitehill Welfare 2-0, thanks to a double from Keith McLeod, to reach the final of the King Cup.

“The boys did really well because Whitehill caused us all sorts of problems, especially in the first half. We then started to get the ball down and pass it, although I wish that had been the league game because it was our night!

“Tomorrow we face a Stirling team who have been brilliant since they came into the East of Scotland League. Most of their success is down to Raleigh Gowrie, a former Whitehill and Spartans player who was also our coach before he moved to Stirling University. They are a very good footballing side with excellent resources and a great infrastructure.

“Sam Lynch [co-manager] and me have selection headaches for tomorrow with Keith McLeod – who scored our 100th and 101st goals of the season on Wednesday night – unavailable along with John Grant. Chris Anderson and Sean Wringe come back into contention along with Jack Beesley and Jordan Finnie who both did really well against Whitehill.

“It has been a long, hard season for Stirling University and maybe now it is catching up with them.”

Stirling’s sports performance manager Gowrie, who has been scouring England this week attending Football League exit trials looking for new footballing students, is also anticipating an enthralling contest against his former club, saying: “We have played a lot of games in a short space of time which has meant injuries to key players coupled with fatigue taking its toll. These two things combined have meant a loss of consistency.

“However, we are still in a position that can reward us with a very successful season and we certainly know what our objectives are. We want to win both of our remaining games and at the same time improve our goal difference. It’s great that this season there is a tight state of affairs throughout the Premier Division and that can only be good for the league.

“The gap between Spartans and Stirling University has definitely closed and people can speculate on whether that is due to Stirling getting better or Spartans losing ground.

“However, Spartans still hold the driving position and they have significant experience of winning trophies. They are therefore comfortable favourites and we need a master plan for tomorrow. We require an appropriate strategy that will see us score goals and secure a win.”

Stirling have striker Chris Geddes in exceptional goalscoring form, although Chris McKee, Craig Mason and Michael Pentland are ruled out. Late fitness tests will be given to Creag Robertson and Daniel Denholm.