Spartans are out to be the real thing on artificial turf

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SPARTANS, after 11 away games, will play their first home game of the season on their new state-of-the-art synthetic surface at Ainslie Park against Tynecastle in the Central Taxis Premier Division, kick-off 3.00pm.

Manchester United were the last visitors to face Spartans in a pre-season friendly in late July and since then the grass has been replaced by a surface similar to that which is utilised by Airdrie United at their Excelsior Stadium. “We looked around Europe for the very best artificial surface,” said Spartans chief executive Craig Graham. “It’s one that hopefully will allow us to attract prominent fixtures, not just those involving Spartans, and we will be able to play throughout the winter.”

Spartans co-manager Mike Lawson is pragmatic about the change, saying: “I prefer playing on grass but we lost about a dozen games to the elements last season and how often do we get the chance to play on a perfect pitch? I really believe that in probably ten years’ time the majority of East of Scotland League teams will have all-weather pitches.”

Last Saturday, Spartans dropped their first Premier Division points of the season when, after leading 1-0, they were held to a 1-1 draw by Edinburgh University. “I took the result like a defeat,” lamented Lawson. “We were a goal up and in control but at the start of the second half we were sloppy in our ball retention and passing. The students equalised and then had something to hold on and they are very good at doing just that. We did not play for the entire 90 minutes and it was definitely two points lost rather than one point gained.

“As a team we are still finding our feet this season after losing a few players and bringing in some new faces. Gavin [Malin] and Keith [McLeod] were not available at the beginning of the season and are only recently coming into contention.”

Spartans meet a Tynecastle side who have collected three points this season with a 4-2 win against Leith Athletic and Lawson has bad memories of a game against Tynecastle at Ainslie Park only two years ago when the visitors won 2-0.

“It’s not very often that we fail to score a goal in a game,” said Lawson. “We have watched them this season and they have some experienced players including Robbie Arthur and Eddie Mearns. They have also brought in some new younger players. I’ve been in this game long enough to realise that you can take nothing for granted. Tynecastle try to pass the ball and play it on the ground and they will enjoy playing on the new surface.” Lawson has Scott Fusco available after his suspension and he has a full squad including McLeod although Gary Bannon and Rees Smith have been released.

Meanwhile, Tynecastle’s results in recent weeks indicate that they are conceding a few goals with defeats from Stirling University (0-4), Edinburgh City (0-3) and Heriot Watt University (1-5). However, according to club captain and goalkeeper, John Gilbertson, the results do not tell the complete story. He said: “We have been playing well going forward but cannot plug the gaps at the back. It is really frustrating because we are playing the game in the right manner. When we fix that defensive element, and we must for tomorrow, then we could do really well. I think that the artificial surface will suit us because we like to play the ball on the deck. We, on our day, are capable of competing with the best and tomorrow will be a great chance for us to prove that. A result would be a massive moral boost to our confidence.”

Tynecastle’s only injury concerns are long term casualties Steve McKenzie and Robbie Dunn.

The game kicks off at 3pm with admission prices £5 for adults and £2 for concessions.