Leith Athletic 3
Stirling University 2
Leith Athletic gave the performance of their season to beat Central Taxis Premier Division challengers Stirling University 3-2 in a game which had everything including two missed penalties and a sending-off.
Prior to the kick-off Leith were desperate for the points to keep them out of the bottom two relegation spots while Stirling, sitting menacingly in second place and chasing leaders Spartans, were keen to keep the pressure on their Capital rivals.
It was Leith, beaten 8-0 in the corresponding away fixture, who took the game to the students and went ahead after only four minutes. Dougie Thom threaded a pass to Jack Combe who quickly fired the ball low into the penalty box where Jason Stevens pounced to steer the ball into the net from ten yards.
The goal visibly rocked Stirling who had lost only one league game all season and within another five minutes they found themselves two down. Lewis Cairns set up Stevens on the right and he struck another excellent low cross which picked out the energetic Combe and he neatly dispatched the ball behind Kevin Walker from eight yards.
Stevens was causing mayhem on the right wing against Blair McWhirter and he wriggled himself behind the defender before he hit the side-netting, then another cross from Stevens found Combe and only a terrific one-handed save from Walker prevented Leith from going three up.
Striling were rarely seen as an attacking force with two long distance free kicks easily dealt with before the normally reliable Chris Geddes was foiled by Leith goalkeeper Iain Gordon.
Leith increased their advantage on the half hour mark when Stevens again provided the ammunition and Greig Tulloch advanced to place a first time shot into the bottom corner of the net. At this stage the Stirling management replaced McWhirter who was having a torrid time against the almost unplayable Stevens.
Leith conceded a penalty seven minutes before the break when Thom allegedly fouled Geddes but the off-form striker hit his spot-kick against the outside of the post.
If the first half belonged to Leith then it was a complete reversal after the interval with Stirling pushing forward almost incessantly. The students pulled a goal back after ten minutes when Paul Sludden crossed for Geddes to direct the ball behind Gordon from close range. Then Stirling were awarded another penalty when Martin Macaulay tripped Eddie Dines. Sludden volunteered to hit the spot kick and this time Gordon flung himself to his right and pushed the ball away for a corner.
With 20 minutes left Stirling’s Jack Nixon drilled in a 25 yard shot to set up a thrilling finale with Geddes and Sludden both passing up opportunities for the equaliser against a resolute Leith defence who held on despite going down to ten men when Stevens was shown his second yellow card four minutes from time.
Derek Riddel, the Leith manager, said: “In the first half we were absolutely fantastic and we played some great football. Then we defended well in the second half and held on.”
The Stirling University coach, Gordon Dick, said: “Being three-nil down at half-time meant a real uphill struggle but we could still possibly have won the game with two missed penalties and three one-on-ones. The players have done exceptionally well this season and winning the title is still in our own hands.”
Leith Athletic: Gordon, C Barrie, Thom, Tainsh, Macaulay, Lynch, Stevens, Tracey (Lowson 83), Combe, Tulloch (Martin 68), Cairns (Smith 60). Subs: Manson, S. Barrie.
Stirling University: Walker, Nixon, McWhirter (Sheridan 30), Atkins, Drummond, Robertson, Polvara (Pearson 35), Dines, Geddes, Sludden, Denholm (Corr 63). Subs: Jacobs, McCulloch.
Referee: Michael Gill.