Spartans fought back from a goal down to move to within one point of Lowland League Cup Group B leaders Stirling University after a 3-2 win over local rivals Whitehill Welfare at a cold and blustery Ainslie Park.
Victory not only lifted the gloom after last weekend’s 4-3 reversal at the expense of the students from Stirling but veteran striker Keith McLeod’s goal, his side’s second of the afternoon, set a new club record that has now seen him score in 11 successive matches.
Posed the question afterwards if he considered this phenomenal tally his most successful scoring spree of his career, McLeod, pictured – who has now scored 19 goals in all competitions this season – ventured cautiously: “It’s definitely got to be. To be honest I had a few chances and probably should have done a lot better, but it’s got to be the best run I’ve ever had which is quite baffling considering I’m now 35!
That was not to say that everything went right for Spartans, though, and manager Dougie Samuel dished out the hair-dryer treatment at the interval.
“Dougie deservedly went through us at half-time,” McLeod admitted. “We were miles off it, perhaps a few Christmas hangovers, but what he said we agreed with and we knew we could be much better in the second half – which we managed to show.”
Despite visitors Whitehill now being left six points adrift of leaders Stirling, and with Edinburgh City also four points off the pace, McLeod wouldn’t be drawn on the conclusion that Section B has become a two-horse race. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “There are still three games to go so I don’t think it will be that straightforward. Everyone is capable of picking up and dropping points, but Stirling will certainly be a big one for us.”
Whitehill were quickest out of the traps with both Wayne Sproule and Kerr Dodds having efforts on Scott Bennett’s goal – Whitehill only able to name three substitutes with key men Wayne McIntosh and Steven Manson both serving suspensions after being sent off the previous week against Edinburgh City. With Welfare utility man Sproule deployed in an unorthodox striking role, manager Mickey Lawson’s decision paid off with the little No.7 grabbing the opening goal of the afternoon after half an hour.
Spartans’ Gary Cennerazzo’s slack pass was seized upon by Andrew Kidd who, in turn, spread play out to the left where team-mate Andy Martin charged up the line before delivering a deep cross which was subsequently missed by the hosts’ rearguard, and Darren McGlashan drove the ball across goal for Sproule to stab the ball in from a couple of yards out.
There was an unusual lethargy surrounding the home side’s play as visiting goalkeeper Bryan Young was rarely called into action for the entire opening half.
Just four minutes gone after the restart, those chastened Spartans equalised from Jack Beesley’s corner from the left.
The No.11’s curling ball to the front post wasn’t dealt with sufficiently by the Whitehill defence, and with the ball bobbling in and around the six-yard box, Alasdair MacKinnon was quickest to react and knock the ball home. Whitehill now found themselves camped inside their own half as Spartans gathered their momentum and Willie Bremner’s strike wasn’t far off after being teed up by Jack Beesley.
On 63 minutes however, the Lowland League leaders gained the initiative. Beesley found space up the right-hand side and with the Whitehill central pairing completely exposed, he squared the ball across goal for McLeod to pounce and fire low past Young.
The Rosewell club shuffled their pack but it proved to no avail as Willie Bremner added a third with less than ten minutes remaining – the striker picking up a loose ball before advancing forward and curling an exquisite shot into the corner from 20 yards.
Whitehill captain Mike Bruce added a consolation in injury time after capitalising on team-mate Jordan Finnie’s header which had come back off the crossbar, but the Rosewell Park side were left to rue their lapse in concentration just moments after half-time – a moment that incensed manager Lawson as he explained.
“We had 14 players available. We had a game plan to try and get in behind them and we played really well in the first half. But if you lose goals at the start of the second half like we did then you’re never going to win games of football,” he said.
“Over the piece, Spartans deserved to win as they had more of the ball and possession. But we didn’t lie down and there were some really good performances out there.”
Spartans: Bennett, MacKinnon, Cennerazzo, Main, O’Donnell, Motion (Anderson 71), Grant, Whatley, Bremner (Brown 83), McLeod, Beesley (Muhsin 75). Subs: Sivewright, Blaikie.
Whitehill Welfare: Young, Martin, Thom, Bruce, McLaughlin, McGlashan, Sproule (Finnie 71), Kidd, Dodds, Dolan (Somerville 71), Shearer (Noon 63).