Edinburgh City boss James McDonaugh hailed Conrad Balatoni after the defender’s second-half header earned the League Two leaders a club record ninth straight win as they defeated Cowdenbeath at a blustery Ainslie Park.
The former Hearts, Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock defender, who signed for City from English non-league side Torquay United in the summer, found himself in the right place at the right time just after the hour mark to nod into an unguarded net.
That goal proved to be the matchwinner following Scott Shepherd’s miss from the penalty spot and City manager McDonaugh heaped praise on the 27-year-old centre-back.
He said: “I thought Conrad was exceptional. He defended brilliantly and attacked the ball perfectly to score. That’s his third goal for us now since he joined the club, and long may it continue. That’s exactly why I signed him because he’s got vast experience and is a calming influence on the younger boys. I was looking for a player of that ilk and was surprised we got him because he’s still got many good years left in him. I just knew he would be a vital piece of the jigsaw and he’s not let us down at all. His attitude is terrific. He organises the team and has been influential on the pitch. We’ve had five clean sheets in eight games and Conrad has played a massive part in that.”
McDonaugh was adamant his side merited all three points, stating: “I thought we were in control of the game. We played well, defended strongly when we had to, and their goalkeeper kept the scoreline down, to be honest. He was outstanding.
“I felt we were always in the ascendancy and their keeper made three or four good saves in the first half. We just had to tidy up a few bits and pieces and we limited them to very few chances. We missed a penalty as well, but we showed great character to persevere and not let that affect us. The boys just keep producing and are continuously churning out results, so hopefully we can keep the winning momentum going.”
It was very much a case of as you were for McDonaugh’s side as he named the same starting XI that defeated Queen’s Park at Hampden last weekend. The home side looked a threat down both wings throughout the contest with full-backs Craig Thomson and Robbie McIntyre delivering some dangerous crosses into the penalty area.
However, in veteran David McGurn, the Blue Brazil had a goalkeeper in inspired form. He produced a string of important saves from Blair Henderson and Graham Taylor to keep his side in the match. City were granted the perfect opportunity to make the breakthrough ten minutes into the second half when Shepherd raced through on goal but was upended by McGurn and the referee quickly pointed to the spot.
However, McGurn redeemed himself as the thwarted the former Falkirk striker from 12 yards, diving low to his left-hand side to push the ball away to safety.
McDonaugh’s men didn’t let that slip-up linger for too long, though – just six minutes in fact.
McIntyre’s inswinging corner from the right was attacked by Balatoni and the defender powered a downward header past the flailing McGurn into the net.
That sparked Cowdebeath manager Gary Bollan into a double change after 67 minutes with loan signing Josh Skelly and Blair Malcolm introduced as they pressed forward in search of an equaliser.
But the Fifers, who were looking for just their second win of the campaign, struggled to break down a resolute City defence which was being marshalled superbly by Balatoni.
The result ensured the Citizens ended the first quarter of the campaign with 21 points from a possible 24 and McDonaugh has been delighted to see his players exceeding expectations. He added: “We’re miles ahead of where we’d hoped to be, and the month of September has been fantastic for us. To win every game has been difficult, but we’ll keep our feet firmly on the ground.
“We’re just enjoying our journey right now and it’s great to be challenging at the top end of the table. However, there is still a long way to go yet and anything can happen.”
Edinburgh City: Antell, Thomson, McIntyre, Black, Balatoni, Laird, B. Henderson, Handling (Stewart 82), Taylor, Shepherd (Smith; 68), L. Henderson. Subs: Morton, Rodger, Hall, Watson, Lumsden.
Cowdenbeath: McGurn, Mullen, Deas, Pyper, Marsh, Miller, Buchanan, Fraser (Malcolm 67), Sheerin, Cox (Skelly 67), Smith (Renton; 82). Subs: Goodfellow, Scullion, Scott, Talbot.
Referee: Lloyd Wilson