Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale manager Kevin Twaddle pinpointed his side’s “lack of belief” in the first half as their main downfall for their 2-1 East of Scotland Qualifying Cup semi-final exit to Spartans at Ainslie Park.
The East of Scotland Premier Division side arrived at the home of Lowland League leaders Spartans in fine form, Twaddle having taken the Saughton club on a 14-match unbeaten run since he took over in November.
However, despite a spirited display over the course of the 90 minutes, Twaddle expressed his regret that his players failed to deliver the kind of performances he has come to expect since his appointment.
“I thought first half we didn’t believe that we could win the game,” Twaddle said. “When you come to Spartans, you’ve got to stand up and be counted. First half has killed the game it’s as simple as that. They’ve got a very strong team and (Jack) Beesley was outstanding.
“But I’m very proud of the boys as we’ve gone 14 games unbeaten and there are not many teams that will do that. I’m not disappointed, just deflated and that’s because we never played well. We got beat by the better team.”
The Vale players made their intentions known from the start, not afraid to push their weight around or become outmuscled by their higher-league opponents.
Vale’s Willis Hare showed neat trickery to fire the first effort on target of the afternoon, but Scott Bennett in the home side’s goal held well.
Spartans’ first serious venture forward resulted in the opening goal after 12 minutes.
Chris Anderson’s clever flick over the Vale rearguard from just inside his own half put Jack Beesley clear, and the No.7 showed terrific accuracy in rifling his shot low into bottom corner from 16 yards.
However, the East of Scotland side were level just six minutes later. Defender Lloyd Dignan’s mazy run was cut short in the penalty box by Alan Brown and referee Lorraine Clark pointed to the spot. Up stepped defender John Williams and he restored parity with a well-taken effort low to Bennett’s left-hand side.
Beesley was the standout player of the opening half, willing to run at the opposition with some neat trickery but also bringing his team-mates into play with some superb range of passing.
And it was his pass into striker Willie Bremner from deep out on the right that restored the hosts’ advantage as Bremner took one touch to control before dispatching his effort beyond Kevin Swain and into the net.
Swain was Vale’s hero after the interval, coming to his team’s rescue on several occasions as he denied both Bremner and Beesley, in particular, each doubling their goal tally.
Beesley’s audacious 25-yard free-kick then rattled Swain’s crossbar before Dignan chose the wrong option when advancing in on Bennett’s goal, electing to shoot when a pass inside to Sean Wringe might have produced a better outcome.
Swain then denied Chris Anderson as Spartans threatened to add a third, but the Lowland League side had done enough to advance to their first final in what promises to be an exciting climax to the season.
Spartans goalkeeper Bennett felt the Vale players gave a good account of themselves, but is delighted to have a cup final to look forward to in what is his first season with the Ainslie Park club.
He said: “It’s a big step up for them coming to play a Lowland League side but they played well. It got a bit nervy at the end so I was impressed with them. The aim is to win as many cups as we can so we’re delighted to be in our first final already, but we’ve got to keep that momentum going.”
Spartans: Bennett, Cennerazzo, Brown, Sivewright, O’Donnell, Mushin (Henretty 72), Beesley, Whatley, Bremner, Anderson, Motion (Grant 64). Subs: McLeod, Main.
Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: Swain, Crawford (Wilkes 56), L Dignan, Williams, Munro, Connolly (McDonough 83), Hare, Stevenson, Wringe, Moffat, C McDonald (Millican 56). Subs: J McDonald, C Dignan.