Spartans striker Keith McLeod plays down title talk

Gary Cennerazzo hails Keith McLeod (No.'10) after he grabbed the only goal. Picture: Toby Williams
Gary Cennerazzo hails Keith McLeod (No.'10) after he grabbed the only goal. Picture: Toby Williams
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Keith McLeod notched his ninth goal in his last five matches for Spartans to condemn Edinburgh City to a 1-0 defeat at Ainslie Park, but the veteran striker was quick to play down suggestions the Lowland League championship was now theirs to lose. Saturday’s victory over Capital rivals City, coupled with nearest challengers Gretna 2008’s 3-2 loss at home to Vale of Leithen, has opened up an eight-point gap over the Borders club.

“Football’s not that easy,” the 35-year-old explained. “We’ve still got a lot of tough, tough teams to play against and when you’re top of the league every team wants to knock you off, so there’s a long way to go.

“I’m a firm believer in that you’ve got to miss some to score some and I missed a header early on, but I feel confident with the boys around me. I don’t know if it’s the best period of my time but I’m just enjoying it.

“They’re always tight games against City as they’re a well organised side. We didn’t get to play as open as we normally do, but we still played well, especially defensively where Daniel O’Donnell was absolutely outstanding.”

It was a bitter afternoon at the Ainslie Park complex as a modest crowd welcomed both sets of players onto the artificial surface.

Spartans, in their traditional red and white home kit, were slick early on with some great interchanges between midfield and attack, but they had to wait 20 minutes to make the first impression on Alan Mackintosh’s goal.

Willie Bremner was the architect down the right as he made for the byeline before cutting the ball back to the unmarked McLeod, who seemed destined to score, but the No. 10’s attempted header at goal was miscued.

City’s Aaron James then sent a stinging effort from distance that Scott Bennett had to tip over his crossbar as the visitors threatened to take an unlikely advantage.

Spartans were mounting the pressure on their opponents’ rearguard and when Kevin Motion sent an expertly timed pass through to McLeod after half an hour, the frontman, who has now scored 255 goals for the club, made no mistake this time around by slipping the ball under Mackintosh and into an empty net.

John Grant went in search of doubling his side’s advantage with a rasping volley that the City No. 1 did well to hold before Ryan Wilson was gifted the opportunity of an equaliser but his tame effort was gathered by Bennett.

James was inches from drawing his side level three minutes after the interval with another piercing drive from distance which whistled past Bennett’s left-hand post.

Mark McConnell then cleared Spartans’ Mark Whatley’s effort off the line after Motion’s corner from the right before Bremner passed up a gilt-edged header from eight yards as he fired over.

City increased their tempo towards the closing stages but lacked that killer instinct in front of goal despite some strong build-up play with only a couple of balls flashed across the Spartans goal causing the home side any real notable concern.

Visiting manager Gary Jardine was disappointed his players didn’t perform to the 
standards he knows they are capable of, particularly coming off the back of last week’s impressive 3-1 victory at East Kilbride.

He said: “We didn’t start well and Spartans played some really good football and we contributed to that by sitting off them. We changed it at half-time and got a little bit higher up the park but we needed to take the few chances that did come our way.

“That’s our sixth defeat and that’s disappointing. I think our players are better than that and we really should have more points on the board, but we have picked up in the last couple of weeks.”

Spartans: Bennett, Grant, Cennerazzo, Sivewright, O’Donnell, Whatley, Brown, Beesley (Beacher 69), Bremner, McLeod, Motion (Henretty 82). Subs: Blaikie, Main, Gilpin.

Edinburgh City: Mackintosh, Caddow, James, Donaldson, Paterson (Harrison 88), McFarland, Torrance, Gair (Wishart), Wilson (Gibson 68), Stenhouse, McConnell. Subs: Robertson, Moffat.