Spartans’ all-time leading goalscorer Keith McLeod gave the Ainslie Park outfit the perfect start to this season’s Lowland Football League campaign when his late first-half goal earned the current champions a 2-1 victory against last season’s runners-up, Stirling University.
“At the time I never thought that my goal would be the winner as I genuinely thought that there would be more goals in the game,” said McLeod, who has now scored a remarkable 277 goals for Spartans. “We started off very well and then probably fell out of it a wee bit, but then we scored our goals and we settled down after that.
“For my goal after Gary [Cennerazzo] had crossed the ball, Sean [Muhsin] headed it back towards goal where it was bouncing and bobbling. I was getting wrestled, which I quite like, but I managed to get the ball over the line.”
Spartans kicked off missing seven of their first team squad through injuries, suspensions and unavailability, but it took them only seven minutes to open their account. Willie Bremner fed Jack Beesley on the right and took the midfielder’s return pass in his stride before he swept the ball home from 14 yards.
Spartans were well in control during the opening quarter of the game. McLeod went close on two occasions and Kevin Motion had a header well saved by Ryan Marshall. However, completely against the run of play, the students equalised after 35 minutes with their first serious attack of the afternoon. Chris Geddes, with some exquisite skills, shimmied past three Spartans defenders and curled a 20-yard right-foot shot home.
The goal spurred Spartans into retaliation mode and five minutes before half time they regained the lead when McLeod turned to force Muhsin’s header over the line from four yards.
Spartans looked certain to add to their tally when Bremner flashed a header wide, Motion shot past the post and new signing Michael Herd fired an effort over the crossbar, but there was almost a dramatic ending to the game when Troy McKerrell’s last minute header shaved the Spartans crossbar and landed on the roof of the net.
Douglas Samuel, the Spartans manager, said: “It was very tough as was seen at the end when Stirling had a chance to equalise, but on the balance of play that would have been harsh on us.
“In fairness to Stirling they kept going and worked really hard. I thought that we started the game really well at a very good tempo and moved the ball well at pace, created opportunities, especially in the first 20 minutes, and could have had the game out of sight.
“We tired a little bit in the second half and got a little loose in possession, but I would certainly have taken a narrow 2-1 win at the start of the day.
“It is important to get off to a good start and not have to chase from early on. Every team will drop points and it’s just a case of trying to ensure that we take as many points as possible from our opening six games.”
Alan Talylor, who was in interim charge of Stirling University after the resignation on the eve of the season by former Hibs player Eddie May, said: “Obviously I am disappointed with the result, but we can take a lot of positives from the game. We did start a little bit slowly, although we knew when we came here we would be put under pressure right from the off.
“This season will be a fantastic challenge for everyone involved.”
Spartans: Swain, Stevenson, Cennerazzo, MacKinnon, O’Donnell, Muhsin, Beesley, Herd, Bremner, McLeod (Douglas, 72), Motion. Subs: Raiker, Pyda, Beacher, Carswell.
Stirling University: Marshall, Jones, Sutherland, Birch, Burns, Robertson, Leigh, Gillen (Kelly, 46), Geddes, Sutcliffe (Duahkessie, 63, McKerrel 67), Crooks. Subs: Whelan, McDonald, Monguel.
Referee: Gavin Duncan