Closing gap on Edinburgh City is target for Spartans

Keith Murray struck deep in stoppage time to win the game for Spartans
Keith Murray struck deep in stoppage time to win the game for Spartans
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Spartans boss Dougie Samuel reckons his team’s remaining Ferrari Packaging Lowland League fixtures are anything but dead rubbers after a late 2-1 win over Gretna at Ainslie Park on Saturday saw them maintain a three-point gap over Stirling University in their battle for second place.

Keith Murray struck deep in stoppage time to win it having missed a first-half penalty at 1-0 following George Hunter’s opener, despite Connor Graham thinking he had rescued a point for Gretna with his 88th-minute equaliser.

Samuel now want this team to go on and clinch second spot. “There’s no such thing as a dead rubber at Spartans,” he said. “We’re expected to go out and give everything we’ve got. We’re not celebrating finishing second but it would demonstrate that we’re making progress because last year we finished fifth. We’re certainly a lot closer to Edinburgh City this year and our win percentage is a lot higher, so we want to take that in to next season. Finishing second would be the least the players deserve for the football they’ve played this year.”

Spartans dominated possession from the off, and it was no surprise when they went ahead inside the first 15 minutes. Michael Herd skipped by his man on the right, referee Jim Burns rightly playing advantage despite his assistant flagging for a foul. The right back’s delivery was met with a glancing header from Hunter, the ball spinning past Vinnie Parker in to the far corner.

The hosts were given a controversial penalty ten minutes before the break. Alan Brown was slipped through on goal and attempted to round Parker. The keeper appeared to get a touch on the ball with his challenge but Gretna’s protests fell on deaf ears. Keith Murray stepped up, and while there was no repeat of Jason Cummings’ attempted ‘Panenka’ at Hampden earlier in the day, the result was the same as the striker blasted over.

Hunter came close nine minutes after the restart. Ross Gray’s clipped delivery from the left picked out the No.11, who met it sweetly with a scissor kick that crashed back off the underside of the bar with Parker rooted to the spot.

Parker was forced in to another decent stop with 20 minutes remaining when Gray spun well in the box and fired in a left foot effort that the keeper did well to parry.

The visitor’s had steadily played their way back in to the game as the second half wore on and levelled with just two minutes to go. Graham latched on to a looped pass over the Spartans back line and sent a smart finish back across Carswell in to the far corner.

There was further late drama as the game moved in to stoppage time. Darren Addison’s cross came back off Carswell’s near post to almost snatch a bizarre winner for Gretna. Spartans took full advantage on the break however. Stevenson fed Keith Murray who worked it on to his right foot and his shot had too much on it for Parker to keep out, squeezing under him and into the net to win it.

Samuel felt it was deserted late victory. “I think we fully deserved it on the number of goalscoring opportunities we created,” he explained. “If we’d scored the penalty I’d have fancied us to go on and win by three or four because at that point we were playing really well. We lost a bit of momentum when Horribine went off but Ross [Gray] came on to a game second half.”

Spartans: Carswel, Herd (Maxwell 59), Stevenson, Dishington, Bruce, Greenhill, Brown, Thomson, Murray, Horribine (Gray 22), Hunter (Beesley 76).

Gretna: Parker, Casey, Wadge, Rea, Inglis, Addison (Wood 45), Reynard, Crozier, Liddell (Atkinson 19), Graham, Norman (White 90).