Spartans’ Gary Cennerazzo is eyeing a strong finish to the season after the anguish of missing the decisive penalty in last weekend’s shootout defeat by arch rivals Whitehill Welfare in the final of the Image Printers East of Scotland Qualifying Cup.
With the match having finished 2-2 after extra-time and, having seen Whitehill’s Wayne Sproule net his spot-kick to hand the Rosewell outfit a 5-4 advantage, the 24-year-old right-back emerged from the centre of the pitch knowing he had to score.
In Cennerazzo’s defence, he followed everything the rule book states. He took his time with his venture forward, made sure the ball was placed on the spot and afforded himself an opportunity to compose himself prior to his run-up. All that was missing was the ball hitting the back of the net as Whitehill goalkeeper Bryan Young dived low to his right and saved the resulting shot, ensuring dejection for the Ainslie Park side.
Having had a few days to reflect on every footballer’s worst nightmare, Cennerazzo said: “I’ve taken penalties in the past, but it’s not something as a full-back you practise a lot of.
“I was confident, though, and had my mind made up, but the goalkeeper made a good save. I could have struck it a bit better perhaps and it always makes it harder when it goes to sudden-death and you’re the one that misses.
“Sunday was a really big disappointment for us all because we played magnificently and we deserved to get our hands on the trophy. But that’s football, sometimes it goes for you and other times it doesn’t. We were hurting for a few days but it’s back to league business now and that is what we are focused on.”
Spartans’ pursuit of cup glory was made all the more difficult early in the second half when top scorer Keith McLeod was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball tussle with Whitehill defender John Hall. The ten men then became nine in extra-time as Alan Brown was given his second booking in the aftermath of team-mate Sean Muhsin’s goal that put the Ainslie Park club 2-1 ahead.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Cennerazzo said. “Once we went down to ten men we were always going to be up against it, but we were actually disappointed we didn’t win the game before penalties so that shows you just how well we played.
“I’m very passionate about the game and it did feel as if the world had just ended after I missed, but the guys and the fans were brilliant telling me to keep my head up and supporting me.
“I’m hungrier than ever now to get that league title and succeed as a team.”
Spartans responded positively to their cup final heartache, with a 3-1 victory over Threave Rovers in Dumfries on Wednesday night stretching their lead over Stirling University at the top of the table to six points, albeit the students do have a game in hand.
With Gretna 2008 the visitors to Ainslie Park tomorrow, the business end of the season is producing just the calibre of fixtures that Cennerazzo and his team-mates had hoped for in the inaugural Lowland League season. He said: “Each game is massive now. We know Stirling are playing good football so we’ve got to be 100 per cent committed and can’t afford any slip-ups. We know what to expect from Gretna tomorrow.”