Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale claimed all three points from their first Premier Division league match of the East of Scotland season – but hosts Civil Service Strollers appeared a much-improved side from when the teams last met.
Eleven days previously, Lothian had emerged from a Qualifying League visit to Marine Drive having gained three Section A points thanks to an astonishing 8-2 win. That day, Jamie Butler, Omar Ali, and Sean Wringe all helped themselves to a pair of goals each, while Strollers’ only comfort came in the form of Chris Ingles’ brace. In their following match – a 3-2 Premier Division success over Leith Athletic - the Muirhouse side appeared to have transformed their on-field fortunes, however they then suffered another midweek capitulation last week, enduring another defeat by a six-goal margin, this time against Tynecastle in the Qualifying League.
If ever there was a team that so obviously manifested the football cliché “the league is our top priority, and success in any other competition is merely a bonus”, Strollers have unashamedly been portrayed as such. Rock bottom of Qualifying League Section A after three games with a goal difference of -13 and not a point to their name, Strollers were, when Lothian came calling on Premier Division duty on Saturday, aiming to reproduce the league form that saw them achieve the considerable feat of defeating Leith Athletic on their own patch.
In the first half, the hosts drew on that impressive league form to build an advantage, albeit a slender one, through a goal by Christian Iywere that saw them lead 1-0 at half-time.
Lothian, who were without no fewer than eight first team picks and supplemented their squad with a swathe of under-19 players, appeared after the break much more like the team that had less than a fortnight previously plundered almost double-figures in goals scored in the corresponding cup fixture. An unfortunate own goal brought the visitors level 15 minutes after the restart, and the prolific Lothian striker Wringe struck his fifth goal in five games to edge the visitors ahead.
Callum Connolly sealed victory for Lothian, but Andy Raeburn, the Civil Service manager, took encouragement from his side’s improved showing against one of the East of Scotland League’s leading lights.
“It was probably a good game for the neutral to watch, but not a great game,” said Raeburn after the match. “It was certainly a better performance than the last time we played them.”
Lothian manager Grant Carnie similarly suggested that Strollers, after enduring an enforced overhaul of their squad in the summer, are becoming a more cohesive outfit that is harder to beat.
“Civil Service worked hard and battled a lot better [than in the previous match between the teams],” said Carnie. “They have struggled because they lost a lot of players after last season and have had to bring in a lot of new players.”
Carnie, however, has issues affecting his own squad, which was decimated by unavailability of players - four to injury.
“We had seven or eight youngsters from the under-19 team who did very well and the older heads helped them through. But, we weren’t clinical, and we didn’t create chances.
“The first half was unacceptable from our point of view. We were deservedly 1-0 down at half time.”