Record goalscorer McLeod leaves it late to beat Strollers

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Spartans 2

Civil Service Strollers 1

A moment of magic from leading goalscorer Keith McLeod deep into stoppage time secured victory for Spartans in this top-of-the- table clash.

The Strollers appeared to be hanging on to earn a share of the points against the Central Taxis Premier Division leaders until McLeod gathered the ball on the edge of the penalty box. The club’s all-time top goalscorer, with 218 goals, showed mesmerising quick feet to dance his way through three challenges before he swivelled and hit a shot past advancing goalkeeper Paul Cadger.

“I had a couple of touches, went past a couple of players and then space opened up in front of me,” said McLeod. “Their keeper came out and I hit the ball with my left foot, a side-footer more than a blast like the three previous shots that I had put over the bar by hitting the ball too hard with my right foot.”

It was a goal worthy of winning any football match and there was no way back for Strollers who proved that they are justified in being in second position in the league. In fact, it was the Strollers who, from the kick-off, took the game to Spartans and a corner from Paul Lynch, son of the Spartans co-manager, Sam, was fired into the penalty box and headed narrowly over the bar by Craig Dickson. Lynch’s next corner was also accurate and this time Liam Jack powered a header off the face of the crossbar before Danny Rennie blasted the rebound high over the target.

Scott Gormley and Rennie were causing the Spartans defence all sorts of problems with their pace and running off the ball and Gormley tested Chris Flockhart with a low shot from 14 yards before the Strollers deservedly took the lead in the 15th minute. Dickson picked out Gormley in the penalty box and the striker’s quick turn completely out-foxed Alasdair MacKinnon who tripped him for a penalty. Gormley took the spot-kick and gave Flockhart no chance as he drilled the ball into the net.

Spartans rallied and a Donal Henretty cross was nudged wide by Omar Kader before a Robbie Manson free-kick was headed past the post from a good position by Henretty.

The second half started with Gormley running through and firing a 12-yard shot into the side-netting, Jack hit a long range free-kick over the bar and Gormley almost caught out Flockhart with a deft lob.

Spartans started to gain the upper hand in terms of possession and chances created with Kader, Chris Anderson and Gavin Malin all going close. And they equalised only seven minutes into the second half when McLeod headed the ball on to Kader who took a magnificent touch before scoring from 12 yards.

Spartans continued to enjoy the better of the game with Henretty testing Cadger who made a superb one-handed save, then the keeper held a McLeod shot, Anderson hit a shot wide and MacKinnon headed a Scott Fusco corner past the post.

Just when it seemed that the Strollers had weathered the storm and the game was deep into stoppage time, up popped McLeod to score his magical winning goal.

“The Strollers definitely controlled the first half,” said McLeod. “They are a good side and I was very impressed with them but we did not play at all in that first half. Arguably, we were lucky to come off the park at half-time only one goal down. As much as the Strollers dominated the first half we did likewise in the second half. I think the Strollers will take points of other teams and they will be thereabouts at the end of the season.”

Mike Lawson, the Spartans co-manager, said: “We definitely did not turn up and play in that first half. The blessing was that we were only one-nil down at half-time. The Strollers were by far the sharper team although Sam and I didn’t think that the Strollers could keep up the pace for 90 minutes.

“At half-time it was a case of telling our players to keep the faith and up our pace a bit. In the second half we were well on top although the Strollers defended very well. It took two pieces of individual brilliance to win the game. Both goals were worthy of winning games although Strollers looked as if they were going to hang on and we could not have argued if they had. They have good players and I hope this defeat does not knock them too much. They can easily finish in the top four, so overall we are delighted with this result.”

The Strollers boss, Garry Aitchison, said: “That was very disappointing after the first half in which I thought we played superb. I was very happy at half-time but to lose a goal so quickly after the restart was annoying. We sat deeper and did not play too great although we worked hard and it shows that we have come a long way. A point would have been great for us although Spartans pushed and pushed and it was an excellent goal from McLeod.

“Spartans are a good team and that is why they are league champions. There were a lot of positives for us to take from the game. If we can play as well as we did against other teams for the remainder of the season then we will be happy.”

Spartans: Flockhart, O’Donnell, Fusco, Sivewright, MacKinnon, Malin, Kader, Manson, Anderson (Finnie, 73), McLeod, Henretty. Subs: Dodds, Beesley, Donnelly, Veitch.

Civil Service Strollers: Cadger, Fraser, Jack, Inglis, Lynch, Dickson (Shields, 73), Campbell, Gormley, Burgess (Jeffreys, 87), Rennie (Dunn, 62), Anderson. Subs: MacBrayne, Burnside.