Preston Athletic bounce back to beat Spartans

LEAPING SAVE: Preston Athletic goalkeeper John Gilbertson makes a great stop. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

LEAPING SAVE: Preston Athletic goalkeeper John Gilbertson makes a great stop. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

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Hampden-bound Preston Athletic earned themselves the ideal confidence-builder ahead of their Scottish Cup second round clash with Queen’s Park next week with victory over Lowland League leaders Spartans.

Two Gary McCormack goals were enough to seal victory, as although Spartans pulled a goal back in the 75th minute, they were unable to rein in the hardworking home side any further.

“Last Saturday wasn’t our best day at the office,” said Preston manager David Bingham, “but I told the players that good teams can bounce back from setbacks and that’s what we’ve done today. I couldn’t have asked any more from them.”

The Panners’ win was made all the more remarkable due to the fact that a much-altered starting 11 took to the park. Missing top goalscorer Sean Martin and club captain Mark Cherrie – both injured in a 2-0 defeat to East Kilbride the previous week – and contending with further knocks, suspensions and player unavailability, Bingham had been forced to draft in two emergency recruits to fill the gaps in his depleted squad.

The Preston boss explained: “I’ve had to call on a couple of guys who weren’t signed because we’re down six players, and I’ve not got the biggest squad. But I think the result today is testament to the fact that the squad is maybe stronger than it was last year, as I don’t think we would have got this result a year ago.

“I’ve also got to pay to tribute to Robbie Arthur and George Cunningham – two boys who have barely played this season – for coming in and playing to the level of fitness that they showed for 90 minutes against a very good side.”

With Sean Martin expected to be out until the New Year with ligament injury, Gary McCormack wasted no time in suggesting where Preston’s goals would come from in the meantime as he gave his side the lead just two minutes after kick off with a drilled shot from 12 yards that snuck under Bennet’s body into the net.

Spartans tried to respond immediately, but other than pushing away a Keith McLeod effort in the fourth minute, Preston goalkeeper John Gilbertson had little to do in the first half.

The visitors’ best chance to pull level fell to Jack Beesley, who scooped a knock-down from Robbie Ross high over the bar when he had space and time to find the target from ten yards out.

Preston’s patched-together side looked confident as they absorbed Spartans’ pressure and turned to attack when they could. Their best chance of extending the slender first half lead fell to McCormack in the 23rd minute, who lashed the ball into the side netting after being set up by Michael Osbourne. McCormack went on to strike again in the 52nd minute, with Robbie Arthur and James Reilly combing to set the striker up from eight yards.

In the 74th minute, Gilbertson dropped low to block a Chris Anderson strike, while the follow up was deflected behind. Jack Beesley sent in the resulting corner, with the ball taking a touch off Ricky Ramsay into the net to hand Spartans a lifeline. But although the Ferry Road side fought hard for a late equaliser, Preston held on to claim all three points.

“It got a bit harum scarum towards the end and the boys are going to be tired after that, but we defended stoutly, played well, and maybe got a break or two that we didn’t get last week,” concluded Bingham.

“We’ll take that in to next Saturday, but that game’s going to take care of itself. Win, lose or draw, I just want the players to perform like they showed today and enjoy the occasion.”

Preston Athletic: Gilbertson, Dodd (Brown 67), O’Hara, Ramsay, Morrison, Cunningham, Philp, Osbourne, McCormack, Arthur, Reilly.

Spartans: Bennett, Grant, Main, Blaikie, MacKinnon, Sivewright, Beesley, Whatley, Ross (Anderson 61), McLeod, Motion (Bremner 61). Subs: Cennerazzo, O’Day, Gilpin.