Blair Henderson fires Edinburgh City to five-point gap in League Two
ANOTHER fixture chalked off the list, and another hugely significant three points on the board for Edinburgh City.
The Ladbrokes League Two leaders took advantage of Peterhead’s inactivity to open a five-point gap at the top of the table, following Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Elgin City in difficult conditions at Ainslie Park.
This thumping win was made even more impressive considering Citizens boss James McDonaugh had a threadbare squad at his disposal.
Several fringe players, including a substitutes’ bench comprised mainly of the club’s under-20s side, were called upon in the absence of first-team regulars Liam Henderson and Andrew Black through injury and suspension.
Their names joined a long list of notable absentees, but that did little to halt City’s momentum approaching the halfway point in the season.
Once again, the league’s top scorer, Blair Henderson ran the show. The striker bagged his second hat-trick of an already stunning campaign, taking his tally to 24 in all competitions.
“I think Blair is enjoying being an Edinburgh City player just now,” McDonaugh joked afterwards.
“He is benefiting from the team we’ve built round about him and has shown his qualities again today.
“I thought his first goal in particular was brilliant, a great ball from Craig Thomson and then Blair’s touch and finish were excellent.
“He was actually disappointed he never had a few more as he missed two or three easier chances, but he can’t have many complaints.
“His goalscoring return has been great, and he just seems to be in the right places at the right time.”
With his squad down to the bare bones, McDonaugh re-shuffled his pack, handing a rare start to on-loan Livingston youngster Adam Watson.
The 20-year-old winger seized his opportunity, and McDonaugh was delighted with his contribution.
“I thought Adam improved as the game went on. He’s got a lot of qualities I like in a player; he’s energetic, good on the ball and has pace in attack,” McDonaugh added.
“Adam is a player that needs more exposure to men’s football, away from the development side of the game. He’s taken his chance today and Gareth Rodger is another one at centre-half.
“Days like this are when you need a good squad you can rely upon to go out and get a result. The boys that have come in have done great and I’m pretty sure this result keeps us top over Christmas.
“We’re on 40 points from 16 games, which is a great return but we’re just trying to keep everyone’s feet on the ground.
“We’ve got two very tough away games at Cowdenbeath and Berwick to end the year, so if we can get anything out of them then that’s a bonus.”
The deteriorating wet and blustery weather played into neither teams’ hands during a largely uneventful first-half.
It was man-of-the-moment Henderson who opened the scoring after 21 minutes when he latched on to Craig Thomson’s lofted pass before side-footing past Elgin keeper Kyle Gourlay.
The former Berwick, Stirling and Annan target man then passed up gilt-edged opportunities to increase the hosts’ advantage, with defender James McGowan making a vital block to keep his side in the contest.
McDonaugh was forced into another change with central midfielder Marc Laird taken off as a precaution after feeling his hamstring, and new signing Danny Galbraith on as his replacement.
For all their superiority, City were made to pay for not taking their chances just beyond the hour mark when Rabin Omar found the net from close range after beating Antell to the ball to level the match.
However, that scare seemed to give the home side a much-needed lift and just six minutes later Allan Smith fired City back in front with a superb long-range strike which flew past the outstretched Gourlay into the top right-hand corner.
Henderson grabbed his second of the match in the 79th minute when he timed his run in behind an Elgin defender to perfection to nip on to Graham Taylor’s through ball before taking a touch and seeing his shot deflect off Gourlay into the net.
And the man who has already surpassed his goals target for the season, got his hands on the match ball three minutes from time after flicking Adam Watson’s powerful low drive past the keeper.
In contrast, Allan Smith was scoring for the first time in more than three months and he dismissed claims that City have become a one-man team this term.
He added: “Other clubs cannot say we’re a one-man team anymore because we’re scoring goals from all areas of the pitch.
“Blair wasn’t scoring much for a few games and it was Thommo who scored the winner against Stirling Albion and Rab (McIntyre) the week before that, so that’s both full-backs which proves there’s a threat across the whole team.
“Elgin equalised in the second half, but for us to come back and score three more goals just shows the lads never-say-die attitude.”
Edinburgh City: Antell, Thomson, McIntyre, Balatoni, Laird (Galbraith; 44), Smith (Kennedy; 89), B Henderson (Lumsden; 90), Taylor, Rodger, Shepherd, Watson. Unused subs: Morton (GK), Donaldson, Beveridge, Hall.
Elgin City: Gourlay, Wilson (Bronsky; 47), McGowan, McGovern, McHardy, Hay (Farquhar; 70), Cameron, Omar, Morrison, McLeish, Sutherland. Unused subs: McHale (GK), Beattie, Miller, Sopel, Loveland.
Referee: Graham Beaton.