Spartans crashed out of the Lowland League Cup at the final hurdle, losing 3-1 to Whitehill Welfare 3-1 as both sides struggled to cope with the intensely blustery conditions at Ferguson Park.
There were some reservations from the match officials prior to kick off as to whether or not the fixture would go ahead but, make no mistake about it, the hosts went about their business and adjusted to conditions with minimum fuss.
The visitors, on the other hand, were uncharacteristically out of sorts in the final third and despite having the wind in their favour during the opening 45 minutes, it was Whitehill who led at the interval.
Securing all three points was simply a must for Dougie Samuel’s side to ensure qualification to the semi-finals at the expense of Stirling University. However, it is the students who will now progress from Group B to the penultimate stage of the competition, finishing a point clear of the Ainslie Park club.
Mickey Lawson’s Whitehill were robust in the tackle and produced a brave showing, particularly in the first half, despite the manager admitting he was left with very few options when naming his starting XI due to player availability.
Lawson said: “We were genuinely short, but I knew we could put a good 11 out on the park. The wind was terrible and it was touch and go as to whether or not it was going to go ahead. They’ve [Spartans] beaten us three times this season, but this was our day. I thought we were great.
“Although we had nothing to play for, the players gave us everything. It has kept our unbeaten run going since the start of the year and there were some magnificent performances.”
The expressions in the players’ faces told a story in itself with just how strong a gale it was blowing, and there were few signs of spring on this particular afternoon in Rosewell as Spartans, as expected, made the stronger start.
Keith McLeod forced a good stop from Darren Walker from a tight angle as the striker tried to use the strength of wind to his advantage as he powered an effort on target within five minutes.
Danny Main’s free kick into the home side’s penalty area almost let McLeod in again, but captain Mike Bruce intervened to thwart the prolific goalscorer just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Despite being restricted to attacking on the break, when the wind permitted, Whitehill gained the initiative after half an hour when John Hall’s delivery from the right swirled to the back post where Wayne Sproule was waiting to bring the ball under control before rifling his shot low and hard under Scott Bennett.
Spartans pressed for an equaliser in the knowledge that they faced an uphill struggle in the second half, but little would fall for the players in red and white in and around the penalty area.
Whitehill made that task more formidable just five minutes into the second half when Wayne, McIntosh this time, picked up a loose ball 25 yards from goal and produced a sweet strike into the top left corner of Bennett’s net with perhaps the aid of a slight deflection.
Danny Noon, who led the line for Whitehill tirelessly, then grabbed a deserved third when he latched onto Walker’s long kick out and shot over Bennett into far corner from a tight angle to make it three and all but end any hopes of Spartans progressing.
The visitors plugged away with more creativity introduced into their play via the feet of substitutes Jack Beesley and Alan Brown, but it was Mark Whatley who earned a consolation when he neatly tucked away a left-footed shot low into the corner from 12 yards with less than ten minutes remaining.
Samuel spoke of his frustrations at not progressing to the latter stages, but was quick to point out his side still have plenty of honours to play for this season.
“I though Whitehill were worthy winners,” he said. “If you analyse the match statistics, they’ve scored a few goals and we’ve given away a few sloppy goals but we didn’t hit the standards we have set ourselves and, from their point of view, the game plan worked out perfect.
“We’ve got bigger prizes to go for and other priorities but we wanted to get to the semis of this competition so we’re disappointed. We have got the chance to put it right over the coming weeks.”
Whitehill Welfare: Walker, Hall (Manson 81), Thom, Bruce, Kidd, McGlashan, Martin, Dodds (Shearer 81), McIntosh, Noon, Sproule. Sub: Cantley.
Spartans: Bennett, Cennerazzo, Main, Sivewright, O’Donnell, Muhsin (Brown 58), Grant (Beesley 69), Whatley, Bremner, McLeod (Anderson 78), Henretty. Subs: Motion, Gilpin.