Despite ending their home campaign with their seventh league defeat of the season, Linlithgow Rose’s Super League status was preserved as other results went their way.
Rose needed a point to avoid the relegation play-off going into Saturday’s encounter with Kelty but lost 2-0.
But with Musselburgh Athletic losing out 2-1 to Jeanfield Swifts in their final league game, their relegation to the Premier League was confirmed, therefore Newtongrange Star, who looked doomed a month ago, have been handed a lifeline with a two legged lay-off against Forfar West End.
Caretaker bosses Jimmy Crease and Alan Miller were brought in at the beginning of the month with the sole aim of keeping Linlithgow up and, despite not securing their Super League status through a result of their own, Crease now departs his role with his job done.
Rose hope to confirm the appointment of a new manager this week and the Evening News understands former manager Mark Bradley is the leading contender, with Miller also in the frame to take the job on a permanent basis.
Second-half goals from Neil McCabe and Scott Dalziel gave the visitors all three points as Kelty strengthened their grip at the top of the table in their penultimate game of the season, meaning title rivals Bonnyrigg Rose can now only regain their title on goal difference.
Kelty’s second-half superiority came after an opening period in which Rose should have been at least a goal ahead at the break.
Caretaker boss Crease rued his side’s profligacy in the first half. He said: “I thought we matched them in the first half and we should’ve been ahead through Tommy Coyne which would’ve put a different complexion on the game. We didn’t play with the same intensity in the second half.”
Crease expressed his disappointment at referee Scott Lambie’s decision to allow Kelty’s second goal to stand, with striker Dalziel appearing to push Rose defender Jamie McKenzie in the lead up.
Crease confirmed Lambie had admitted at full-time to say he got the call wrong.
He added: “The second goal was a foul which the referee admitted to Alan [Miller] and myself coming off the park that he got it wrong, but it’s too late for that.
“Our priority was to keep the club up and that’s what the committee expected us to do and we’ve done that regardless how it has came about.”
Home midfielder Jack Beaumont went close with a free-kick from 25 yards which fizzed just wide of visiting goalkeeper Kyle Marley’s right upright on 18 minutes.
Coyne then went even closer after he beat player-boss Tam Courts in the air to Harvey Swann’s dangerous cross, but saw his header agonisingly bounce off the post.
Coyne should have burst the net when presented with his next chance just a minute later, though. Ross Gray slid the usually reliable striker in one-on-one with Marley, but with the goal gaping he skewed his effort wide.
Visiting striker Neil McCabe should have made him pay soon after but he somehow struck the upright from just three yards out after good link up play involving Craig Thomson and Jack Wilson.
His namesake in midfield was ruthless when presented with his first sight of goal six minutes into the second half as he bulleted Conrad Courts’ corner-kick in at the front post.
Kelty’s second goal four minutes later was contentious with Dalziel seemingly committing a foul before he finished in style past Darren Hill.
Sitting top on 75 points, Kelty only need a point to secure the title in their final game of the season at home to rivals Bonnyrigg, likely to take place in two weeks.
Should Rose drop points before then, the title will be Kelty’s, although manager Kelty Tam Courts hopes Rose can maintain their challenge until the final game of the season to set up a mouthwatering championship face-off.
“We’re always confident, we’ve got enough players in the dressing-room that have been over the course before and we understand what it takes,” said Courts.
“We must commend Bonnyrigg Rose for the champion spirit that they’ve shown and I think when you’ve won a title you push champions elect all the way. I don’t feel we are champions elect yet, we still feel we have a some work to do.
“We’ll keep the lads fit, it’s probably a good opportunity to nurse a couple back to full fitness so come that time we’ll be fit and raring to go. We’ll remain focussed and fingers crossed they do what they do and we’ll just handle our business once it comes round.
“It will be hugely exciting; a great advert for Super League and Junior football. I think they’ve been a credit to Junior football throughout the season in terms of their performances in the senior Scottish Cup and they are performing like champions do, they are pushing us all the way and that’s exactly what we expect – we don’t want them to roll over, we want them to push us all the way and we want to feel like we’ve earned the Super League if we do actually get over the line.
“We want the opportunity to win it on our own park and we will really relish facing Bonnyrigg at home in a couple of weeks time.”
Linlithgow Rose: Hill, Thom, Swann, Beaumont, McKenzie, Leiper, Gray (Coogans), Muhsin, Kelly (Small), Coyne, McNab
Kelty Hearts: Marley, Carstairs, C Courts, O’Neill, T Courts, Neil McCabe, Thomson, Greig, Ritchie (Moore), Wilson (Dalziel), Neil McCabe (Campbell)