Flu-ravaged Spartans battle past Leith Athletic

Scott Maxwell (No.11) is congratulated after scoring Spartans' third goal. Pic: David Lamb
Scott Maxwell (No.11) is congratulated after scoring Spartans' third goal. Pic: David Lamb
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Spartans boss Dougie Samuel breathed a huge sigh of relief that a flu bug didn’t hinder his side’s progression to the Football Nation Qualifying Cup semi-finals.

Samuel breathed a huge sigh of relief that a flu bug didn’t hinder his side’s progression to the Football Nation Qualifying Cup semi-finals.

The Ainslie Park outfit were only able to name 14 fit players in their home encounter against reigning East of Scotland champions Leith Athletic on Saturday, but came up trumps 3-0 to seal their place in the last four.

Striker Keith Murray, who Samuel was forced to recall from his loan spell at Preston Athletic, opened the scoring midway through the first half before a brilliant solo effort from Jack Beesley and Scott Maxwell’s stunning 25-yard free kick ensured the win.

The club’s head coach had only returned home a couple of hours beforehand having spent the past week in New York to find several members of his squad were feeling under the weather.

“We were down to the real bare bones but we didn’t want to call on the under-20s as they had their Scottish Cup game against Falkirk yesterday so we were really stretched,” Samuel said. “But I was really pleased with the players’ application as it’s a cup we’d like to win.

“On the back of a really difficult midweek game against St Mirren, it’s always difficult to lift yourself again and to the players credit they played really well and created so many goalscoring opportunities over the 90 minutes.

“Leith are a right good side though. Derek (Riddel) is a first-class coach and everyone knows he encourages his team to get the ball down and pass it. It’s always like a chess match against them and in parts I thought they played really well, but they’ll be disappointed they’ve not worked our goalie enough.”

It was the visitors who came closest to breaking the deadlock – Rhys Craigie seeing his third-minute strike come back off Ross Gilpin’s right-hand post as the hosts survived an early scare.

The home side responded with Murray, who had netted for Preston against BSC Glasgow just seven days prior, firing over the bar from a Beesley cross.

But Eddie Malone, who was deployed in a central midfield role, picked out Murray and the frontman took one touch before sending an angled shot beyond Iain Gordon for the opening goal of the afternoon.

Beesley was the architect as Spartans went in search of doubling their advantage, Murray again the recipient as his glancing header flashed just wide of the far post.

But Beesley made no mistake just two minutes later – the club’s current longest servant playing a neat one-two with Jamie Dishington before firing home a minute before the interval.

Leith were hit with a sucker punch just two minutes after the restart as Kyle Fee was adjudged to have tripped Dishington inside the area, but Beesley failed to convert from 12 yards, bringing out a smart stop from Gordon.

Gordon was the hero time and again as he denied Dishington and Murray as Spartans threatened to run away with the tie, but there was nothing the Leith No.1 could do seven minutes from time as Maxwell curled a quite brilliant free-kick into the top right corner.

Leith manager Derek Riddel wasn’t too downhearted by his side’s display against higher league opposition and said. “We will be better for the experience because this is the level we want to play at. We did a lot of good things but just weren’t clinical enough in the last third. We made a few mistakes and we were punished for it, but had Rhys’ shot in the first couple of minutes gone in then it might have been a completely different game.”

Spartans: Gilpin, Herd, Malone (Mair 77),Tolmie, Townsley, Stevenson, Beesley, Dishington (Greenhill 86), Murray (Comrie 68), Ward, Maxwell.

Leith Athletic: Gordon, Melvin, Fee, Lowson, Glynn, Wilson, Tracey (Mason 57), Allan, Hainey (Kneeshaw 77), Craigie (Ferguson 66), McKinlay. Subs: Fairnie, Burns, Black, MacPherson.