Fired-up Lothian Thistle beat Kelty and boost title hopes

Nico Gibson celebrates scoring the decisive goal. Pic: Neil Hanna
Nico Gibson celebrates scoring the decisive goal. Pic: Neil Hanna
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Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale boss Raymond Carr revealed how an online article gave them all the ammunition they needed to put Kelty Hearts to the sword at a sun-kissed Saughton Enclosure.

Nico Gibson’s first-half header secured a huge three points for the reigning East of Scotland League champions and a win that ended the league leaders’ 100 per cent record. It was also Lothian’s third consecutive 1-0 victory over their opponents this season having knocked them out of the William Hill Scottish Cup and EoS League Cup.

Lothian are now just five points adrift of the Fife club with two games in hand – they play city rivals Tynecastle tonight and Wednesday – before a potential league title decider at Kelty on Saturday.

It has been a gruelling week for Carr’s players, who must now prepare for their fourth game in just six days having played last Wednesday and Thursday.

And Carr revealed a report published on the internet last week – which he and the Lothian players felt suggested this year’s league title was more or less on its way to Kelty – had proved inspiration ahead of Saturday’s showdown.

“We saw the piece on the BBC last week saying the league title was more or less over and that’s being really disrespectful,” Carr explained. “The guys want to go out and play well and prove people wrong and I think we’ve done that.

“All credit to these players for having to play last weekend, Wednesday, Thursday and then come into a game of this magnitude, arguably the biggest game of the season outwith the Scottish Cup.

“I’m glad we’ve not let Kelty go through the season undefeated so at least we’ve stood up to them. The rest of the league can take a look at themselves and say ‘why did we not do that?’

“We’ve got two equally as hard games this week against Tynecastle because of the fatigue in the boys and the injuries that are piling up. They’re running on empty, if I’m being honest.”

Lothian goalkeeper Kevin Swain was quite magnificent for the home side, saving a first-half penalty just a minute after Gibson had headed his side into the lead.

“Swainy kept us in the game with a tremendous showing but that’s the kind of goalkeeper he is,” Carr said of the 32-year-old. “But I thought we deserved it for the work-rate we’ve put in. The league is now in our own hands which it always has been because no-one else is going to do us any favours.”

Swain himself is desperate to defend their league crown and is optimistic they can finish the job off this weekend. But, with the club still doing their utmost to be granted an SFA Licence despite the March 31 deadline having passed, promotion to the Lowland League would appear unlikely at this stage.

“We always knew if we scored first then we’d give ourselves every chance of winning,” Swain said. “Kelty have scored 140 goals this season but that’s the third time they’ve failed to score against us. That might be in their minds.

“When we found out we had all these games I felt it would be touch and go. But having come through this week we’ve now put in ourselves in a really good position. It’s going to be a really tough few days coming up but we just need that final push.

“I think if we are to win the league again and we don’t go up it’s going to be really hard to take. I’ve been here for a while now and I am desperate to play for the club in the Lowland League.”

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: Swain, Moore, O’Donnell, Crawford, Gibson (Shala 39), Muir (Hutchison 19), Hare (Nhamburo 79), Brown, Murray, McGregor, Swanson. Subs: Mungall, Simpson, Guy, Walker.

Elsewhere, Preston Athletic are just three points off third-placed Leith Athletic with a game in hand after a 3-0 victory at the Pennypit. Scott Walker, Steve Campbell and Jay Cochrane were all on target for the East Lothian men.

Heriot-Watt were impressive 5-2 winners over Tynecastle at Oriam and Ormiston were held to a 1-1 stalemate with Tweedmouth.