Spartans boss Dougie Samuel conceded that his team are now out of the Ferrari Packaging Lowland League title race after they went down 3-2 to Edinburgh City in an incredible New Year Edinburgh derby at Ainslie Park.
Aaron Murrell and Dean Horribine had the hosts two goals to the good before Joe Mbu’s strike right on half-time. City captain Dougie Gair had his early second-half penalty saved by Blair Carswell before Ross Allum headed home a leveller. Spartans then had Eddie Malone and Alan Brown both shown straight reds after conceding spot-kicks, only for Carswell to deny Allum twice. The striker atoned, however, with a winner in the 90th minute.
Samuel was full of praise for his goalkeeper on a disappointing day.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise,” he said. “[Blair’s] done that a few times and clearly we believed in his potential when we gave him the No.1 jersey at the start of the season. I think people can now see why.
“I thought we were going to hang on. A point would have been hugely significant as it would have kept us in it. Now, I don’t think it’s Edinburgh City’s title to lose because that’s disrespectful to Stirling Uni, who I think will run them close, but it’ll be really difficult for us to catch them now.”
The hosts were ahead after just ten minutes. A floated free-kick from Blair Carswell sailed over the City back line, and Spartans’ top scorer Murrell let the ball drop over his shoulder and acrobatically volleyed into the top corner from 12 yards.
Spartans made it 2-0 when Horribine spotted Andrew Stobie off his line, and took full advantage by sending a lob sailing over keeper’s head and into goal from more than 25 yards out.
City got themselves back in the game in first-half stoppage time. Gair’s corner from the right found Mbu at the back post and the big defender took a touch before rifling the ball across goal and in via a deflection. Gary Jardine’s side had the chance to level within two minutes of the restart. Substitute Ouzy See was caught by Carswell in the box, although Spartans felt the striker had pushed Garry Cennerazzo in the build-up. Gair stepped up, but Carswell got down well to his right to produce a fine save.
City got their equaliser from the resulting corner. John Dunn’s delivery was glanced on at the near post by Allum, and referee Craig Napier, with help from the far side assistant, adjudged the ball to have crossed the line before being cleared.
Spartans then received their first red card of the afternoon when Duthie got a second yellow after going in late on Sean Muhsin in the City penalty area. They were down to nine soon after when Eddie Malone was shown a straight red for tripping Allum as the striker bore down on goal.
Allum stepped up but Carswell again blocked with his legs. Incredibly, the referee pointed to the spot immediately afterwards when Brown was adjudged to have committed serious foul play on See, although it was unclear what he had done to be sent off. Allum once again stepped up, but Carswell remarkably made it a hat-trick of spot-kick saves.
Spartans enjoyed some good fortune when Paul Thomson’s header came off his own bar. Carswell then made point-blank saves from See and Craig Sutherland as Spartans continued to cling on. It wasn’t to be however, as Allum smashed home a loose ball in the penalty area on 90 minutes.
Jardine was pleased his team didn’t rue their profligacy from 12 yards, but was full of praise for City’s opponents.
“Penalties have been the bane of my life!” he laughed. “We lost three shoot-outs in six months, in a local cup, then to Brora and then to Queen’s Park. To be fair, the last couple we’ve had, Allum’s stuck them away, Ouzy’s [See] scored and we’ve spoken about how many Dougie Gair’s scored from the spot, but what can you say? It was a crazy, crazy day. Although we got the points, Spartans deserve great credit for the way they put up a fight.”
Spartans: Carswell, Cennerazzo, Stevenson, Malone, MacKinnon (Thomson 45), Greenhill, Brown, Dishington (McNab 87), Murrell (Saunderson 65), Duthie, Horribine.
Edinburgh City: Stobie, MacDonald, McConnell, Paterson (Sutherland 72), Donaldson, McFarland (See 30), Muhsin, Allum, Dunn (Deniran 85), Gair, Mbu.