Spartans boss Dougie Samuel rued the lack of a second goal after a second half turn around from East Kilbride saw them run out 4-1 winners in the Football Nation East of Scotland Qualifying Cup final.
A Martin McBride strike, a double from Sean Winter and a late stunner from Anton Brady ensured the silverware went back west along the M8 after David Greenhill put Spartans ahead at the interval.
Samuel believed a second goal before the break would have resulted in a very different outcome. “It’s disappointing because in the first half the game was there to be won,” he said. “I think had we gone in 2-0 ahead we would have gone on to see it through, but all credit to East Kilbride, they were very good second half and thoroughly deserved to win it.”
The opening stages were evenly matched. Keith Murray had a penalty claim waved away for Spartans, while East Kilbride keeper Jacob Kean almost dropped a Jack Beesley corner into his own net, the cross bar aiding him in keeping the ball the right side of the line.
It was an error that lead to Spartans opening the scoring after 17 minutes. Scott Stevenson was short with a back pass that Murray pounced on. Kean did well to get a hand to the ball and prevent the striker rounding him, but he only diverted the ball to Dean Horribine, who teed up Greenhill for a simple finish in to the empty net.
Kean was almost caught out again soon after when a poor kick out went straight to Beesley, but his attempted long-range lob sailed over the cross bar, much to the Kilby keeper’s relief. Billy Ogilvie’s men did manage a direct attempt on goal after 25 minutes, but Winter’s trundling free kick posed no real problems for Blair Carswell.
Spartans were threatening to double their lead, and would have done so but for a great defensive header from Craig Howie, preventing Murray from nodding in Beesley’s chipped delivery at the back post.
Murray was inches away again minutes later. Horribine’s stabbed through ball put him in on goal despite calls for offside from the EK defenders, and the No. 9 was desperately unlucky to see his placed finish across Kean cannon back off the inside of the post.
Beesley was proving the architect of the majority of Spartans’ attacks, and another of his crosses was met by Craig Stevenson, but Kean reacted well to parry his left-foot volley.
The North Lanarkshire side got themselves back level ten minutes after the break. Carswell initially saved well from a Howie header, but the resulting corner wasn’t dealt with by Spartans after Howie’s header kept the ball in at the back post, and McBride was able to force the ball home from close range.
Spartans should have retaken the lead almost immediately when Dishington turned well and played in Murray, but the striker didn’t catch his shot properly and allowed Kean to get something on it and divert wide.
The game was turned on it’s head shortly after the hour. McBride turned provider, standing up a great delivery from the left, and skipper Winter headed powerfully past Carswell.
Spartans were then given mountain to climb with just over 15 minutes remaining. A Ross McKinnon corner from the left was again met forcefully by Winter, who powered home his second and Kilby’s third of the game.
Substitute Craig Hastings almost added further gloss to the scoreline, but like Murray in the first half, saw his effort come back off the post. Brady did add a fourth in stoppage time with a wonderful curling effort in to the top corner.
Samuel stressed there is still plenty more to play for with another two trophies up for grabs. “The players have been on a fantastic run and they deserve a lot of credit for that,” he explained.
“That’s the first 45 minutes of football we’ve lost in a long time so there’s no need for anybody to get too down. We’ll talk about the goals we lost but we’ll refocus, reboot and try and finish the season as strongly as we can.”
East Kilbride: Kean, Robertson, Coll, S Stevenson (Russell 88), Howie, Winter, Gormley (Hastings 78), McBride, Brady, Smith (Millar 45), McKinnon.
Spartans: Carswell, Herd (Malone 69), Brown, McNab (Maxwell 89), Thomson, Greenhill, Beesley (Hunter 69), Dishington, Murray, C Stevenson Horribine.