Meikle challenges his players to keep their elevated place

Mark Smith celebrates his goal
Mark Smith celebrates his goal
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Penicuik Athletic 2

Oakley United 0

CRAIG MEIKLE has thrown down the gauntlet to his Penicuik players after they moved to the top of the Premier Division for the first time this season.

First-half strikes from Mark Smith and Keith Barr – the latter a contender for goal of the season in any league – earned the Midlothian side a hard-earned win over Oakley.

It took them above not only the Fifers but also Sauchie, by virtue of more goals scored, and Meikle has challenged his players to show they’ve got the mettle to stay there.

“We’ve just thrown the gauntlet down to them in the dressing-room,” said the joint-manager. “Even way back at the start of the season we never sat at top of table.

“It’s great to see us sitting up there now and we’ve said to the boys let’s stay there and show we can handle the pressure of being the team to catch instead of doing the chasing.”

Oakley, the long-time leaders, were missing seven regulars for this encounter due to either injury or suspension and had Andy Tod, the former Dunfermline defender, helping them out after being persuaded to pull his boots back on.

With Ryan Blackadder pulling their strings, the visitors started brightly and were almost rewarded with an early goal. Lee Dair picked out the lanky Brian Ritchie with a flighted ball into the box and his header was brilliantly saved by Billy Bald low to his right.

The home keeper denied the same player again with an equally good stop just before the hour mark, by which time Penicuik had taken the lead.

Mike McDermott’s corner from the right picked out Ally Reid beyond the back post and he headed the ball down into the six-yard box. Chris Roxburgh reacted first to fire in a shot that was saved but, as the ball broke free, Smith bundled it home.

While that 22nd-minute effort was of the scrappy variety, Penicuik’s second goal 13 minutes later was an absolute cracker.

First it was about Roxburgh showing his lightning pace to get in behind a defence. Then it was about the little striker showing both skill and tenacity to twice work his way along the byline after his first cross was cut out.

His second delivery found James McPartlin and he then laid the ball into the path of Barr, who unleashed as sweet a right-foot shot as you’re ever likely to see from 25 yards to leave the Oakley keeper flapping at fresh air as the ball whistled into the roof of the net.

The visitors, who’d lost central defender John Cusick to injury in the first-half, started the second-half with a flourish and Taylor was unlucky not to reduce the deficit with a header that hit the post. Roxburgh, who went on to earn the sponsor’s man of the match award for his industrious performance, flashed a shot across the face of the goal at the other end before having the ball in the net shortly afterwards only to be denied by an offside flag.

Dair then missed a glorious chance for Oakley when he shot wide from bang in front of goal, with Bald’s clean sheet being ensured when he pulled off another splendid save late on.

“It’s a massive win for us,” said a delighted Meikle. “It was important to get first goal and once we got that the priority was to then try and keep a clean sheet. We’ve not had one for a few games and to do that in such an important game was tremendous.”

With five teams closely packed at the top, it’s going to be some fight for those two promotion spots, but Penicuik have run into form at the perfect time.

Penicuik Athletic: Bald, Cunniston, McDermott, Meikle, Reid, McPartlin, Gay (Knight 77), Barr, Roxburgh, Smith, Brigain. Subs: Gallacher, Draper, O’Reilly, Thomson, Killin, Haldane.

Oakley Atheltic: Sanidson, Kelly, Connors, Cusick (Fraser 14, Crook 75), Tod, Ritchie, Dodd (Anderson 68), Dair, Morrison, Blackadder, McMillan. Subs: Leslie, Campbell, Fyfe.

Referee: W Fraser.