Spartans fight back to clinch Football Nation Qualifying Cup

Spartans celebrate with the trophy. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Spartans celebrate with the trophy. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Spartans boss Dougie Samuel says their Football Nation Qualifying Cup final triumph reaffirms their position as one of the best clubs outwith the professional game.

The Ainslie Park side overturned a 1-0 half-time deficit at the indoor pitch at Oriam today to inflict a 2-1 defeat on East of Scotland outfit Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale. It was only the second time Lothian had been beaten all season.

Ross Allum scores the winning goal. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Ross Allum scores the winning goal. Picture: Ian Rutherford

John Sherlock’s freak opener had given the lower league side the lead in the ninth minute but Lothian were left to rue their inability to capitalise on their first-half superiority – Scott Maxwell levelling eight minutes into the second period before a Ross Allum strike just after the hour mark completed the turnaround.

In truth, Spartans bore little resemblance to the side that had beaten Lowland League champions elect East Kilbride in the previous round and although they did strike the crossbar twice inside the first 15 minutes, their focus looked elsewhere.

However, Samuel believes some of his squad allowed their nerves to get the better of them due to the magnitude of the final itself.

“I think everybody knew this was a season-defining game for us,” the Spartans head coach explained. “It was really important for the players to win the competition because we’ve not won a trophy for couple of seasons and people start murmuring that the maybe the club’s lost its way. I think we were a bit more nervous than I had appreciated in the dressing room beforehand. But these players have shown that on our day that we’re as good as anyone in the Lowland League.

“Having hit the bar twice and then losing a freak goal, you start wondering if it’s going to be one of those days. Half-time came at a good time and we felt quite fortunate to go in at 1-0 down, but you get a chance to reboot and I think Maxi [Scott Maxwell] and [Jack] Beesley had a 20-minute spell in the second half where they won us the game. Blair Tolmie and Chris Townsley were also exceptional in the middle of defence.”

It was Townsley who had the misfortune of seeing his effort come crashing off the underside of the bar with just four minutes on the clock following a dangerous delivery from the right boot of Beesley.

And, having survived an early scare, Lothian took advantage when Sherlock’s cross-cum shot from 25 yards somehow looped over goalkeeper Blair Carswell and in off the far post.

A desperately unlucky Alan Brown was doing his utmost in trying to haul his side level as his darting run and shot inside the penalty area saw the Lothian woodwork struck for a second time.

Jamie Devlin, who had been restored to Raymond Carr’s starting line-up following a two-match suspension, then flashed the ball across the face of the goal as Lothian sensed their opponents’ vulnerability.

Samuel shook his head in despair as he made his way to the dressing room having witnessed such an insipid first half from his players.

However, his spirits were soon restored as Maxwell got in front of goalkeeper Kevin Swain to turn home a Beesley cross after 53 minutes – both players requiring treatment in the aftermath in what was a nasty collision.

Spartans suddenly had a different aura about them and from Maxwell’s deft ball over the top of the Lothian defence, there was former Edinburgh City striker Allum to lash the ball beyond Swain from eight yards out.

Captain Michael Herd’s through ball sent Allum in on Swain again but this time the 28-year-old couldn’t convert from an acute angle as his effort struck the side netting.

Willis Hare and Tony Muir both had efforts on goal blocked, the latter’s in particular bringing out a tremendous stop from Carswell with just a couple of minutes left to play.

Lothian coach Stephen McKenzie felt his players had done enough to take the tie into extra time.

“I don’t think we deserved to lose in the 90 so we should have at least taken the game to extra time,” he said. “But we’re still really proud of the boys as they gave everything and that’s all we can ask for. On another day it could have been a lot different.

“We’ve still got a lot to play for. It’s only the second time we’ve been beaten all season so that’s an achievement in itself.”

Spartans: Carswell, Thomson, Maxwell, Herd, Tolmie, Stevenson (Gabiola 70), Beesley, Allum, Dishington (Comrie 90), Brown, Townsley. Subs: Gilpin, Murray, Mair, Dawson.

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: Swain, Moore, Taylor-MacKenzie, Crawford, Sherlock, Muir, Hare, Brown, Wringe (Guy 63), Devlin, O’Donnell. Subs: Mungall, Alastuey, Moffat, Munro, Hutchison.