Blair Atkinson and Scott Maxwell fire Spartans into Cup semi-finals
SPARTANS maintained their bid for silverware after advancing to the Lowland League Cup semi-finals by defeating a depleted Edinburgh University 4-0 at Ainslie Park, thanks to doubles from Blair Atkinson and Scott Maxwell.
With a Football Nation Qualifying Cup Final against either Camelon or Bonnyrigg Rose on the horizon, Dougie Samuel’s players remain on course to finish their indifferent campaign with a flourish later this month.
The Students could name only three substitutes for this quarter-final showdown, with head coach Dorian Ogunro having just 14 players at his disposal due to exams.
And as a result the Uni offered little in the way of an attacking threat and rarely tested Spartans No.1 Blair Carswell, who was probably due a quiet afternoon following his penalty-saving heroics in recent weeks.
After dictating the early proceedings, frontman Blair Atkinson opened the scoring after 15 minutes with a powerful drive from the edge of the box which flew past visiting keeper Callum Davison.
There was a tinge of controversy surrounding the goal, however, as referee George Calder allowed play to continue despite the University having a man down injured with a head knock.
If that wasn’t frustrating enough for the Peffermill men, they fell further behind in the 40th minute when Atkinson broke quickly down the right wing and picked out Scott Maxwell to slot home from close range.
University boss Ogunro was then dismissed from the visitors’ dugout for contesting a decision that went against his side.
The pressure from Spartans was unrelenting, and the lively Atkinson put the tie to bed in the 52nd minute by sliding a low effort into the bottom corner to stretch his terrific scoring spree to six goals in four games.
Aidan Kemp and Mark Waters carved out half-chances for the away side, but it was Maxwell who completed the rout with eight minutes remaining when he headed substitute Murray Hand’s cross into the net.
That set up a last-four clash with East Stirlingshire this weekend, after the Falkirk-based outfit knocked out holders Cumbernauld Colts 2-1 at Broadwood Stadium.
As for Edinburgh University, the result will leave a bitter taste from what has been another largely successful season.
Centre-back Stuart MacFarlane emphasised that maintaining their league status will be the primary objective going forward as the division continues to grow from strength to strength, with the potential inclusion of Bonnyrigg (pending SFA licence) and Berwick Rangers next term.
He said: “Our biggest strength is the togetherness and the philosophy surrounding the club. I think that gives us a slight advantage over other teams, who have a policy of signing as many players as possible.
“Of course, we would love to get an experienced player in and add quality to the squad but that isn’t an option for us.
“We just need to keep training hard and give ourselves the platform to go and play.
“We benefit from some great facilities and work alongside top coaching staff, so I’m sure these benefits outweigh some of the financial benefits of other clubs.
“It seems likely we’ll lose around six of seven first-team starters again this summer, and with the calibre of player this league is now attracting, it’s becoming even tougher for clubs like ourselves.
“However, it’s up to guys like myself, Mark (Gair), Luke (Murray) and Finn (Daniels-Yeoman) to help the younger boys coming through as much as possible and be the backbone of the team.
“That role carries a bit of extra responsibility, but I’m confident we’ll continue to surprise a few people next season.”