Malin puts Spartans in charge

Keith McLeod in the air.

Keith McLeod in the air.

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Spartans 2

Gretna 2008 0

Gavin MALIN was the toast of Ainslie Park as his two successfully converted penalty kicks ensured that Spartans maintained their relentless charge for their fourth consecutive Central Taxis Premier Division title.

Gretna, on their historic first ever visit to the Capital to meet Spartans, proved to be a stern test for the current champions and defended resolutely but did not seriously threaten to breach the Spartans back four in which central defender Alasdair MacKinnon was outstanding.

The opening 20 minutes belonged totally to Spartans with Omar Kader particularly effective on the right flank where he caused all sorts of problems for Gretna’s Mattie Brown.

Malin tried a 20 yard shot which sailed over the bar then Robbie Manson picked out Donal Henretty but his gentle lob missed the target before Keith McLeod directed a header past the post. Malin looked to have given Spartans the lead in the 20th minute but his snap shot from outside the penalty box rebounded off the bar. Gretna gradually edged themselves into the game and from a Daniel Rayson corner Phil Storey headed over at the back post. A Russell Parker shot then earned Gretna a corner from which Parker hit the ball wide. A Rayson free kick with two minutes of the first half remaining saw Chris Flockhart make a fine save grasping the ball at the second attempt.

The second half was only two minutes old when Spartans took the lead from the penalty spot. In an off the ball incident Henretty was tripped by Parker and Malin stepped up to fairly blast his spot kick behind Connor Grant in the Gretna goal.

McLeod then missed a series of opportunities to increase Spartans’ advantage but a combination of circumstances, including some good saves from Grant, meant that the normally reliable striker could not find the net. The game was therefore poised on a knife-edge until stoppage time when Spartans finally made sure that all three points would stay at Ainslie Park. Kader hit the post with an 18 yard shot and when the ball rebounded to Chris Anderson he was unceremoniously dumped to the ground by Sam Atkinson and once more Malin fired an unstoppable penalty kick behind Grant.

Spartans are now 13 points ahead of second-placed Gretna who do have two games in hand over the reigning title holders.

Malin, Spartans double goalscorer, said: “We turned up and knew that if we did not see Gretna off then the league would be much tighter so we were determined to pick up all three points. Our whole team was brilliant although our defence played particularly well.

“I’m always confident on penalties and I was happy to take both of them. I usually just hit the ball as hard as I can!

“It’s a very good three points and another three points ahead of both Gretna and Stirling University who both now have to try to catch us.”

Stuart Rome, the Gretna manager, said: “It was a very good game of football and to be beaten by a team of the calibre of Spartans is no disgrace.

“My players are despondent at losing their unbeaten away record of nearly two years.

“We didn’t lose a goal in open play which was a credit. We looked, after the first penalty knocked the stuffing out of us, that we would create something but it was not to be.”

Spartans: Flockhart, Manson, Hoskins, Sivewright, MacKinnon, Malin, Kader, Grant, Anderson, McLeod, Henretty. Subs: Beesley, Finnie, Seeley, Donnelly, O’Donnell.

Gretna 2008: Grant, Rea, Brown, Blake, Atkinson, Cummersky, Parker, Slattery, McMath, Storey, Rayson (Metcalfe 86). Subs: Coombe, Ingles.

Referee: Michael Gill