Newtongrange Star won the second leg of their Super League relegation play-off against Forfar West End but lost out on aggregate 2-1, although they could yet still take their place in the top flight next season.
As first revealed by the Edinburgh Evening News in April, Super League champions Kelty Hearts have applied and are set to be admitted into the pyramid system this week when their move to the East of Scotland league is confirmed at the association’s AGM on Thursday.
That would leave the Super League with an odd number of teams, a situation, the Evening News understands the East Region Juniors are keen to avoid, meaning Newtongrange would be reinstated to ensure a 16-team top flight is in place for next season.
That decision will rest with the East Region Management Committee, who are set to meet on June 13 to discuss various issues, including plans for league reconstruction, prior to their AGM the following week.
Star boss Stevie McLeish therefore faces an anxious couple of weeks to find out what league he will be managing next season – putting recruitment plans up in the air with prospective signings unsure of the club’s future.
“I think there’s a bit to-ing and fro-ing to go just yet with going down or what not,” said McLeish. “There’s a lot of things to happen over the next week or two which might actually change that. If we’re down, we’re down, fine, we’ll move on and the club will still try and evolve.”
McLeish was forced to pull a team together for Saturday’s match – fielding Mark Moncrieff, an amateur – with four players making themselves unavailable due to weddings. Club captain Lee Currie was the most notable absentee, with the former Berwick Rangers midfielder set to join Bonnyrigg Rose this summer.
“A scratch team won 1-0 comfortably and they did everything they could to stop the game,” McLeish continued.
“They saw the game out – fair enough they had a two goal lead; of course they were going to do that. I wish them all the best for next year.
“I think you saw out there a team who were fighting all the way and did really well. I think people who didn’t turn up have a lot to answer for. It’s unbelievable and very disappointing for us as a club. It’s not helped that guys decided not to turn up for social reasons.”
James Flynn’s magnificent volley gave Star the lead just before half-time after an entertaining first half, but despite enjoying the majority of possession after the interval they couldn’t find another goal to take the tie to penalties as Forfar held firm.
McLeish said: “We struggled to cope with the game for the first 20 minutes and then eventually we took charge of the game and played some good football.
“The goal before half-time gave us a bit of a lift and we huffed and we puffed and we did really well in the second half. I felt we looked threatening enough, they played on the break a wee bit but they never really troubled us.
“If the future of the club is looking at younger players or players with less experience coming in to show their quality, then so be it because it’s quite exciting to see that. The boy [Mark] Moncrieff who came in from Danderhall Amateurs was absolutely sensational, he did fantastic for us.”
Left winger Moncrieff certainly caused problems for the visitors with his pace and earned himself a free-kick on 23 minutes after he was scythed down by David Rae.
Flynn’s set piece was on target but goalkeeper Darryl Burns got across to make the save. Moncrieff then carved out a chance for himself, firing in a low shot which Burns pushed away.
Star got the opener on 43 minutes after good work down the right involving Sean Lally and Kenny O’Brien ended with the latter finding Flynn, who volleyed into the back of the net from 14 yards.
Kyle Lander had a half chance on 72 minutes when he flicked on Moncrieff’s corner-kick but Burns gathered it up.
Brian Murray then came close with a strike from distance, but it was the visitors who should’ve wrapped up the tie late on with Matthew Ramsay denied by Liam Amos at the front post.
Newtongrange Star: Amos, Murray, Martyniuk, Hamilton, Young, Moncrieff, Lally, O’Brien, Lander, Flynn, Bracks
Forfar West End: Burns, Stephen. McDonald, McKenzie, Rae, Sutton, Petrie (Ireland), C.Walls, Hart, Ramsay, A.Walls (Reynolds)