Fans return to Scottish football as Kelty Hearts set up judgment day in SPFL play-off final against Brechin City

Kallum Higginbotham celebrates putting Kelty Hearts 1-0 up against Brechin City.Kallum Higginbotham celebrates putting Kelty Hearts 1-0 up against Brechin City.
Kallum Higginbotham celebrates putting Kelty Hearts 1-0 up against Brechin City.
The rise of Kelty Hearts will find its most definitive judgment day yet in Angus on Sunday afternoon.

The second leg of the pyramid play-off final will determine whether the small Fife club with big ambitions can steal Brechin City’s place in the Scottish Professional Football League.

In front of 250 home supporters, a 2-1 victory in the first leg at New Central Park gives Kelty a narrow advantage heading to Glebe Park. Kallum Higginbotham and substitute Cammy Russell struck for the wee Hearts, with Jonathan Page scoring Brechin’s equaliser in between.

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Michael Paton’s City famously avoided dropping out of League Two last season despite every other division of the SPFL relegating teams. That stuck in the throats of many across the country, not least the Lowland League champions.

After finishing bottom again, Brechin are now fighting for their lives at senior level. Kelty are the upstarts looking to make history after a convincing 6-1 aggregate win over Highland League winners Brora Rangers in last week’s play-off semi-final.

The magnitude of this fixture is clear throughout the tiny Fife village as bunting and flags adorn lampposts and fences. The Kings Bar on Main Street boasts a large maroon-coloured saltire out the front, while posters of the ‘Maroon Machine’ decorate New Central Park’s approach road.

Kelty had waited a long year for this opportunity. Welcoming fans back for the occasion merely heightened the sense of anticipation. They started proceedings strongly roared on by a passionate and vociferous group of locals.

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It took just 15 minutes for a home breakthrough. A quick ball forward found striker Nathan Austin in behind the Brechin back line, his shot was initially saved by goalkeeper David Hutton, but Higginbotham promptly converted the rebound. Cue a roar very much missed around Scottish football recently.

The visitors rallied quickly to restore parity seven minutes later. Bobby Barr’s short corner was struck goalwards by Chris McKee and poked into the net by centre-back Page. That allowed Brechin a foothold in the game but Kelty reclaimed the advantage seconds before the interval.

A delightful passing exchange involving the impressive Dylan Easton and Higginbotham ended with Easton’s through pass for Russell. He took a touch and confidently stroked the ball through Hutton’s legs into the net.

Higginbotham’s impromptu 25-yard volley forced a terrific one-handed save from Hutton early in the second period. At the opposite end, the Kelty keeper Darren Jamieson produced an equally smart stop by diving to smother the ball as Brechin midfielder Kieran Inglis shot. Jamieson then pushed away a deflected effort from the same player.

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The natural thought at that point was whether City would be left ruing those missed opportunities. As the second half progressed, they retreated towards their own goal whilst Kelty passed and probed in front of them.

After three minutes of stoppage-time, the final whistle brought a cheer of approval from those inside the ground. The scene is now set for an ultimate showdown this weekend.

Kelty (4-2-3-1): Jamieson; Stevenson (Russell 26), Reid, Hooper, Boyle; Tidser, Reilly; Philp, Higginbotham, Easton; Austin.

Brechin (4-4-2): Hutton; McIntosh, Page, Hussain (Jordan 37), Reekie; Barr (McLevy 90), Inglis, Osman, Coupe; Currie (Slaven 76), McKee.

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