SPARTANS goalkeeper Blair Carswell put on a superb performance in his side’s William Hill Scottish Cup second-round tie at League Two side Elgin but, with seconds remaining, he was beaten by a diving header by Archie MacPhee.
Carswell, 20, had made a series of magnificent saves in the latter stages of the match. Dylan Easton had three net-bound efforts all turned away by Carswell while he also denied Cieran McLean and Mark Nicolson.
The modest youngster said: “It’s my job to stop the ball going into the net so all I do is to try and do my bit for the team. We tried hard but it was just not our day. We created chances and it wasn’t as if we sat in the whole game. Aaron Murrell was unlucky at a corner kick when his header hit the bar. On another day, that could have gone in. I was happy with my own performance but it’s a team game and obviously it’s a defeat so it’s not the best feeling although I am happy with what I contributed. Now we have to go back to the Lowland League where we are sitting not too badly so hopefully we can go on a wee run and get some wins.”
Although Carswell made more saves than his Elgin counterpart, Spartans did create several chances without testing Stewart Black in the opposition goal. Alan Brown caused some early problems for the Elgin defence with his foraging runs down the right while a Craig Stevenson free-kick picked out Dean Horribine but his header was easily grasped by Black.
Early in the second half, an Eddie Malone corner was headed by Murrell but rebounded off the face of the crossbar while Murrell had two other attempts which both drifted wide of the target.
Dougie Samuel, the Spartans manager, said: “I think that it is always hugely disappointing when you lose a goal so late on. The players worked hard and kept their discipline and shape very well and asked some questions of Elgin over the course of the game. I think that we did enough to take them back down the road for a replay.
“There were very few goal attempts in the first half although I felt that defensively we were quite comfortable and probably their only threats were from set pieces, especially corners with their height and presence. In open play, we were very comfortable and had we been able to pick that final pass or show a bit more quality at the top end of the pitch, we could easily have gone in at half-time one up. At half-time we encouraged our players to be a wee bit more positive in the final third and further encouraged them to squeeze Elgin a little bit higher up the park. However, the most important thing was to say to the players that they were doing lots of things well. In fairness to our younger players, I felt that they played better in the second half, especially Aaron, Jamie Dishington and Conner Duthie. We were asking a lot from these front three, who are all only 18 years old.
“I think that Blair was fantastic, Paul Thomson had a great game – probably his best in a Spartans jersey – while all of the youngsters have learned a lot and overall I think the performance will help us and that we will kick on for the rest of the season in the Lowland League.
“We will use this result as motivation because we want to play in stadiums like this week in, week out. We want to play at this level and I think that we have shown with our performances in the Scottish Cup over the past two seasons that we can compete at this level so there is nothing for us to fear.”
Jim Weir, the relieved Elgin City manager, said: “We were lucky that Spartans hit the bar but then we pressed late on and their goalkeeper has had a couple of great saves to stop us going in front. I thought that it was going to be a replay but we are delighted that we are going into the next round.”
Elgin City: Black, Cooper, MacPhee, McHardy, Nicolson, Reilly, McKenzie (McLaren 81), Cameron, Gunn, Easton (McLean 76), Moore (Halsman 85). Subs: Bruce, Duff, Storrier.
Spartans: Carswell, Brown, Malone, Cennerazzo, Thomson, Horribine (Saunderson 65), Dishington, Stevenson, Murrell, Herd (Ross 90), Duthie (Murray 76). Subs: Raiker, Mair, Gilpin.
Referee: G. Irvine.