Spartans’ Neil McCuish sliced Liam Corr’s speculative cross into his own net to give the students of Stirling University a stoppage time winner in this Central Taxis Premier Division top of the table clash at Ainslie Park in one of only two games to beat the weather.
This cracking encounter between last season’s champions, Stirling, and runners-up, Spartans, who could only be separated on goal difference, seemed to be heading for a draw until that late dramatic moment in the second minute of time added on.
“I didn’t realise how little time there actually was left,” said Corr. “I saw Chris [Geddes] making a run which he is always very good at and I was just trying to pick him out but their centre-half just got a flick on the ball and sent it past his own goalkeeper, but I’m definitely claiming it as my goal anyway!”
The game had started at a frantic and furious pace with no player from either side being allowed any time to settle on the ball. Kevin Walker in the Stirling goal was the first to be seriously tested when he managed to block a Willie Bremner close range effort then Chris Anderson fired wide from twenty yards.
The opening goal arrived in the 24th minute when Corr picked the ball up wide on the right and cut inside, beating three Spartans defenders, before he unleashed a left foot shot from the edge of the penalty box which flew past Chris Flockhart and into the top corner of the net.
Anderson and Jack Beesley both had efforts to equalise for Spartans before the home side did attain parity ten minutes before half-time. Gary Cennerazzo, Spartans’ left back, advanced and played a neat one-two with Keith McLeod then fired an unstoppable left foot shot low into the far corner of the net from 16 yards. This was Cennerazzo’s first-ever goal for Spartans although he lamented after the game: “It’s disappointing that it didn’t count for anything.”
Stirling had loud appeals for a penalty turned down when Daniel O’Donnell appeared to up-end Craig Mason then Paul Sludden looked certain to give Stirling the lead but was thwarted by a superb double save from Flockhart. Stirling substitute Chris Geddes hit the side netting from a good position then the striker mis-kicked from only six yards out before he uncharacteristically hit a twelve yard shot high and wide. The game then moved into stoppage time when Stirling secured all three points with that dramatic own goal.
Douglas Samuel, the disappointed Spartans manager, said: “We’ve scored a couple of late winners this season in stoppage time but we have also been victim to a couple of late goals as well which has cost us points so over the course of a season they probably balance themselves out. However, the nature of Stirling’s goal, it being an own goal coming in the 92nd minute, almost makes the defeat seem even worse if that is possible.
“I think that we had the better of the first half and had quite a few more goal attempts than Stirling although I thought they had the better of the second half so I think that a draw would have been fair on the day. It was almost played like a cup-tie and I don’t know if that’s because neither team had played much football in the past four weeks or so. It was a huge three points and just now we are neutral against our main rivals.
“By that I mean we have beaten Whitehill Welfare and lost to Stirling University so hopefully we can improve on that in the second part of the season when we go and play both of these teams away from home.
“It makes it more difficult for us to reclaim the title which we would love to be able to do but I don’t think that it’s until you get to games 17 or 18 that you know whether you are going to be a contender or not.”
Eddie May, the former Hibs player and now head coach of Stirling University, said: “I don’t think there was anything between the teams and it had a draw written all over it. In overall chances it was probably about even. Obviously, we are delighted with a win but I feel for Spartans because they put a lot into the game and a draw would probably have been a fair result.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams are there or thereabouts come the end of the season. We are three points better off than we were at this stage last season so we will keep on trying to get better.”
The final word went to Spartans goalkeeper Chris Flockhart who said: “All we can do is pick ourselves up and try to kick on for the second part of the season.”
Spartans: Flockhart, Manson, Cennerazzo, McCuish, MacKinnon, O’Donnell, Beesley, Whatley, Anderson, McLeod (Grant 79), Bremner. Subs: Sivewright, Wringe, Milligan, Gilpin.
Stirling University: Walker, Nixon, Sheridan, Atkins, Drummond, Robertson (Sutherland 88), Burns (Dale 60), Nicol, Mason (Geddes 60), Sludden, Corr. Subs: Mongal, Marshall.
Referee: Don Robertson.