Play-off in balance as Edinburgh City head north

Brora's Grant Munro makes his presence known during Saturday's play-off at Meadowbank. Picture: Toby Williams

Brora's Grant Munro makes his presence known during Saturday's play-off at Meadowbank. Picture: Toby Williams

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Edinburgh City boss Gary Jardine says his side’s two-legged play-off against Brora Rangers should be the only tie that decides promotion to SPFL League Two after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Meadowbank.

A crowd of 908 saw Ortega Deniran’s opportunist strike give City the lead before Martin McLean’s well-taken leveller ensured there will be nothing between the teams when they do it all again at Dudgeon Park this Saturday.

The winners will play Montrose in the play-off final, but Jardine believes that both clubs have earned the right to battle it out for promotion without the SPFL’s bottom club being given the chance of a reprieve.

“Where I’m concerned, this should be the final,” Jardine insisted. “I think any team finishing bottom of the pile should be relegated and shouldn’t get the chance in the play-offs. This should have been the showpiece final, but it’s a great end to the season. It’s long overdue and is wonderful to be part of.”

Jardine admitted the effort took its toll on his players’ energy levels, but feels they showed enough quality when they were able to get on the ball.

“We put an awful lot of energy into trying to combat Brora when they had the ball in the box,” he said. “Maybe that took its toll on our energy levels going into the last 15/20 minutes, which is something we’ll need to look at, but I think the effort and commitment was definitely there. We didn’t stop running and when we got on the ball at times we were quality. We had a bit of a sticky patch around February/March, but we’re back to trying to pass the ball quickly and in phases we did that.”

Zander Sutherland was close to opening the scoring for the visitors on four minutes, his snap shot forcing City keeper Andrew Stobie into a smart stop. Strike partner Steven Mackay almost added to his 55 goals this season with a close ranger header that Stobie did well to tip over. Sutherland was then inches away again, hitting the bar from the resulting corner before home defender Chris McKee inadvertently did the same with Scott Graham’s effort.

A mix-up between Grant Munro and Scott Houston almost presented City with their first opportunity, but the former Ross County man cleared before Ross Allum could make a connection.

Sutherland’s corners were proving difficult for City to deal with, and Mackay should have scored after they failed to clear another delivery, but the Rangers top scorer headed wide from close range.

John Dunn was next to go close for City, sending in a powerful right-footed volley from the edge of the area that Joe Malin kept out with a fine one-handed save.

Sutherland fashioned the first opportunity of the second half, scampering down the right channel before cutting in and hitting a low drive across Stobie who did well to tip it wide.

City responded by taking the lead on the hour. Houston was short with a header back to Malin, allowing Deniran to nip in and send the ball trundling into the far corner.

City looked the more dangerous after their goal and sub Mark McConnell did well to hold up Jordan Caddow’s long pass, turning inside Munro and getting a shot away that Malin was able to parry.

Despite that, City’s inability to clear their lines cost them with 11 minutes remaining. Mackay did well to keep the ball in after it looked to be drifting out following a free kick. It was cleared to the edge of the area and Martin McLean took the ball down, skipped past a challenge and sent an angled drive across Stobie and into the far corner. Some City players claimed the game should have been stopped in the build up due to a head knock.

Davie Kirkwood’s side could have sneaked it at the death. Sutherland picked out Mackay with a cross in stoppage time but the front man couldn’t keep his header down.

City’s Allum felt a draw was about right. “Overall it’s probably fair,” the striker said. “They played well and we played in stages of the match. We felt a bit hard done by when there was a head knock in the box that led to the goal following the free-kick, but overall it was probably fair.”

Allum also dismissed any suggestions that Brora wouldn’t be up for it given the board’s reluctance to gain promotion. “You read about it all the time but you know what it’s like playing – I’ve never played a game not wanting to win it and I didn’t see that from them at all. We knew they’d come down here and give everything, which they did,” he added.

Edinburgh City: Stobie, Caddow, James, Allum (Vanson 78), Mbu, Harrison, McFarland, Gair (MacDonald 83), Deniran (McConnell 72), Dunn, McKee.

Brora Rangers: Malin, Houston, Gillespie, McKeown, Munro, Morrison, McLean, Graham, Sutherland, Mackay, Greig (MacDonald 65).