Saunderson the hero as Spartans squeeze through

Keith Murray of Spartans pulls away from Colts' Richard Kirwan. Pic: Toby Williams

Keith Murray of Spartans pulls away from Colts' Richard Kirwan. Pic: Toby Williams

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Spartans boss Dougie Samuel was relieved to see his side progress from their South Challenge Cup third-round tie at home to Cumbernauld Colts.

An underwhelming regulation 90 minutes saw Blair Munn give Colts the lead in stunning fashion before a last-minute penalty from Spartans’ Keith Murray forced extra-time. The game looked to be heading to a penalty shoot-out before former Hearts youngster Euan Saunderson won it for the Ainslie Park side four minutes from the end.

Samuel admitted it had taken his men until late on to come to life following a 3-0 victory over the same opponents the previous week. “We were a little bit off colour today at the top end of the pitch,” he said. “Credit to Cumbernauld, they were well organised defensively, got players behind the ball and made it really difficult for us. It took until really the last minute of normal time before we saw a spark and a bit of magic from one of our attacking players, but I think after we equalised we were the better side in extra time.

“It’s difficult playing the same team twice in succession. We did well against them last week but the 3-0 really flattered us. We rode our luck last week and we rode our luck again this time before half-time. Their centre forward, after he’s gone round Blair Carswell, really should finish it and it’s a different game then, but we’ll take it. We’ve had lots and lots of bad luck over this season so hopefully it’s evening itself out.”

George Hunter had Spartans’ first opportunity after Alan Brown had played him in behind, but Chris Fahey was down well to tip his close-range shot round the post. Eddie Malone then went close with a header from a David Greenhill free kick, but it sailed wide of the far post.

Cumbernauld spurned a glorious chance to take the lead right on half-time when Euan Sanderson was short with a back pass to Carswell. Alan Hunter was on to it and knocked it past Carswell, but his touch was too heavy and it ran out for a goal kick, much to the annoyance of Stephen O’Neill, who was waiting on a square pass for a tap in.

A wonderful piece of improvisation from O’Neill almost brought the breakthrough with 15 minutes remaining. He spotted Carswell off his line from 30 yards out, and his chip was sailing in just under the crossbar until the Spartans keeper back-pedalled and tipped over for a corner.

The opening goal came shortly after thanks to another fine piece of technique. Spartans only half cleared, and Munn sent a brilliantly hit dipping volley over Carswell and in via the underside of the crossbar.

Spartans were handed the chance to ensure extra time in the final minute. Greenhill surged down the right before picking out Brown in in the area. He skipped by one challenge before the next one brought him down. Murray stepped up and extended everyone’s afternoon by at least half an hour, dispatching the spot kick high past Fahey in to the top corner.

Jack Beesley made his long-awaited return from injury, and went close to putting Spartans ahead in extra time when the rattled the outside of the post with a free-kick.

The hosts edged in front with four minutes left when Greenhill’s delivery, following a short corner, landed in a dangerous area and Saunderson got there just ahead of Fahey to stab the ball home from close range.

The return of Beesley after a long spell out injured was welcomed by Samuel.

“That’s massive for us,” said the Spartans boss. “Scott Maxwell played an hour for the Under 20s last week and Beezer’s played some minutes today which is great. We’re hoping both of them will be back properly within the next two or three weeks competing for a starting jersey.”

Spartans: Cardwell, Sanderson, Stevenson (Raiker 113), Malone, McNab (Dishington 56), Greenhill, Brown, Herd, G Hunter (Beesley 77), Horrible, Murray.

Cumbernauld Colts: Fahey, Duncan, Kirwan, Oliver, Davidson, Ballantyne, Fergus (Black 81), Munn, A Hunter (S Brown 115), Pirie (Foggin 103), O’Neil.