Stroll through Vale for Spartans as they make semi-finals

Goal machine Keith McLeod. Pic: Greg Macvean

Goal machine Keith McLeod. Pic: Greg Macvean

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Two goals in either half were enough to send Spartans into the semi-finals of the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup at the expense of a disappointing Vale of Leithen side at Ainslie Park.

A brace from on-form striker Keith McLeod and solitary efforts from Willie Bremner and Kevin Motion was more than enough to ease the hosts through to the last four.

Midfielder Motion, scorer of his side’s third of the afternoon, was complimentary to what he described as a solid team performance and felt there was never any doubt regarding the final outcome.

“It was a good team performance and I think we dominated the whole game,” Motion said in the aftermath. “We could have maybe got another couple of goals. I’m delighted to get a wee right-foot swinger and we’ve played them three times and I’ve scored in every game, but I’ll take it.

“We’ll need to see who we get [in the semi-final] and then take it from there. We’re back to the Lowland League on Saturday so it will be a tough game down at Threave. We played them in the Ramsdens Cup at the start of the season and they beat us down there so we’ll be looking to come away with the right result this time round.”

Manager Dougie Samuel was forced to start with Spartans’ East of Scotland side’s goalkeeper Murray Jackson because No. 1 Scott Bennett was unavailable due to illness – however, in truth, the stand-in keeper couldn’t have hoped for an easier afternoon.

Torrential rain made conditions underfoot extremely slick, but the home side went about their business as usual looking to break down a Vale defence from the offset. However, a midfield battle was the most prominent feature of a rather uninspiring opening 20 minutes as both sets of players struggled to create any real opportunities in the final third.

But a mistake in the centre of the Vale defence after 23 minutes allowed man-of-the-moment McLeod through on goal and the 35-year-old made no mistake as he clinically dispatched the ball beyond Graham O’Brien from 16 yards into the far corner.

Should McLeod score in Saturday’s league fixture away to Threave Rovers, the Spartans forward will equal the British record of scoring in 15 consecutive games set by Dundee United frontman Finn Dossing during the 1964/65 season.

The hosts then went two up just moments later in rather fortuitous circumstances. John Grant’s surging run from outside the penalty area resulted in the midfielder opening up a gap to shoot on O’Brien’s goal and as his shot seemed destined for the bottom corner, Bremner was the lucky recipient as the ball cannoned off his boot and landed in the back of the net from eight yards. Jack Beesley’s shot from distance then landed on the roof of the net before Vale’s Scott Gormley’s deflected free-kick landed just wide of Jackson’s left-hand post.

McLeod and Motion both went close to increasing the home side’s lead before the interval, the latter bringing out the best of O’Brien who got down low to stop his goal-bound effort from the edge of the area.

With the skies clearing during the interval and the rain finally easing, that was, however, the only gloom to be lifted from the visitors’ perspective as their exit from the quarter-finals was sealed just six minutes into the second half. Motion picked up the ball 25 yards from O’Brien’s goal and stormed his way past two Vale defenders before his effort took a slight deflection on the way through and over the stranded Vale No. 1 and into the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar.

McLeod then showed terrific guile in the Vale penalty box, controlling a deft flick from Motion before turning his marker and drilling his shot low into the bottom corner for number four of the afternoon.

Keith Lough had Vale’s best opportunity of the match in the closing stages, but after Gormley had rounded Jackson in the Spartans goal and sent the ball across the face of goal, the winger could only drag his shot wide of the target.

Spartans: Jackson, MacKinnon, Main, Sivewright, O’Donnell, Grant (Brown 72), Beesley, Whatley, Bremner (Muhsin 61), McLeod (Anderson 65), Motion. Subs: Cennerazzo, Henretty.

Vale of Leithen: O’Brien, Aird, McAleavy, Young, McKenzie (T Aitchison 31), R Aitchison, Rennie (Mearns 63), McCulloch, Gormley, Ferguson (Kerr 63), Lough.