Blair Atkinson strikes late to keep Spartans’ title hopes alive

Blair Atkinson is grounded second from the left after scoring the winner
Blair Atkinson is grounded second from the left after scoring the winner
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Spartans struck an injury-time winner for the second week running to keep their Lowland League title challenge very much alive.

It took a double from youngster Blair Atkinson, his second arriving three minutes into stoppage time, to wrap up a 2-1 victory over a plucky Edusport Academy side at Ainslie Park.

It was only eight days prior that the hosts had needed a last-minute winner to see off Edinburgh University, David Greenhill on target that night for Dougie Samuel’s men.

How important the Capital side’s 16th league win of the season will prove to be only time will tell. What it does do is ensure the club’s destiny is very much still in their own hands.

With league leaders and reigning champions East Kilbride putting six past Vale of Leithen, Spartans remain nine points adrift although they do still have four games in hand.

And with just a couple of seconds to spare on Saturday, 21-year-old Atkinson says there was no-one more relieved than the striker himself to see the ball hit the back of the net.

“We always keep plugging away until the end but we don’t half make it difficult for ourselves sometimes,” Atkinson said afterwards. “It was a big relief to see the ball end up in the net. I knew big G [Guillermo Lamarca] was going to win the flick-on so it was important I made it to the ball first.

“Edusport always do well against the teams at the top end of the table, they never make it easy.

“We’ve had to wait a few years to find ourselves in this position so we don’t want to let that go as we’ve worked so hard. If you work hard enough then nine times out of ten you’ll be rewarded.”

The opening 45 minutes proved to be a drab affair, former Edinburgh City striker Ross Allum with a couple of half chances ensuring visiting No.1 Lles Belkacem wasn’t 
just an innocent bystander.

Edusport were neat and tidy on the break but too often they chose the wrong option in and around the Spartans penalty area.

The game sparked into life however five minutes after the half-time interval when Allum cleverly drew a challenge from Ryan McCann inside the Edusport box.

Allum took the spot kick himself but his effort was saved by Belkacem and Ian McFarland headed the rebound wide from just a couple of yards.

The hosts did find themselves in front 12 minutes later as captain Michael Herd’s cross fell kindly for Atkinson to stab the ball under Belkacem.

There was relief all around Ainslie Park but it proved to be short lived when Liam Coogans was afforded time to turn and steer a half volley beyond Blair Carswell with little more than ten minutes remaining.

But this Spartans team is made of strong stuff and Atkinson sparked wild celebrations on the touchline when he latched on to substitute Guillermo Lamarca’s header to flick home the winner with the outside of his boot.

Meanwhile, Civil Service Strollers saw off Capital rivals Edinburgh University 3-1 at Christie Gillies Park.

Recent addition Paolo Buzzi opened the scoring for Alex Cunningham’s men but Ross Watters restored parity for the visitors before the interval.

However, second-half goals from Stephen Froude and Andy Mair saw Strollers secure all three points.