Striker Keith Murray admitted he hasn’t hit many sweeter strikes after his 90th-minute winner gave Spartans all three points against Stirling University at Ainslie Park.
Murray won it for the hosts when his long-range drive found the bottom corner as a tight game moved into stoppage time, meaning Spartans leapfrogged their opponents into second place in the Ferrari Packaging Lowland League table.
With the Football Nation East of Scotland Qualifying Cup final against East Kilbride coming up this Sunday, the Spartans hitman couldn’t have timed his late goal any better.
“I haven’t hit many better,” said Murray. “I actually thought the keeper had got a full hand to it, but it just swerved past him at the last minute. It gives me a bit of confidence going into the cup final and it also give the boys confidence that we can go in to the last ten minutes and win the match.
The Groundhop UK weekend ensured a bumper crowd of 435, but there was very little for them to get enthused about for the opening half-hour with both sides cancelling each other out. Given one point and one league position separated the two at kick-off, a cagey encounter was perhaps no surprise.
There was finally some attacking play of note on 30 minutes. A ball over the top sent Uni’s Jeff Duah-Kessie in behind and the striker thought he’d opened the scoring, only to see his effort come back off the inside of the post. Strike partner Paul Sludden followed up and looked certain to score against his old club, only for keeper Blair Carswell to launch himself in the path of Sludden’s shot to brilliantly keep it out.
For all their possession, Spartans finally worked Ryan Marshall in the Stirling goal just before the break. Jack Beesley showed wonderful feet on the right before cutting back for Jamie Dishington, but his first-time effort was easily held by the Uni keeper.
Marshall stood up to a sterner test in first-half stoppage time, leaping to his right to acrobatically keep out Dean Horribine’s dipping volley.
Sludden was unfortunate not to open the scoring shortly after the break, spinning in the area and curling a shot just wide of Cardwell’s top right-hand corner.
Murray should have had Dougie Samuel’s men ahead just before the hour, somehow putting the ball wide with an open goal in front of him after Marshall had spilled a Beesley cross. Just as it looked to be petering out to a 0-0 draw, Spartans won it in the 90th minute with a moment of real quality. The ball sat nicely for Murray 25 yards out, and the striker hit a sweet half volley that arrowed into the bottom corner, Marshall’s hand not enough to keep it out.
Samuel felt his side were worthy winners, and was pleased to avoid any further injuries ahead of next week’s showpiece encounter. “It was two good sides in a tight game,” he said. “No disrespect to the sides we’ve played in the last few weeks, but I thought Saturday was up a level. We said to the players before the game that we had to go up a notch and I think over the piece, we created enough opportunities just to edge it.
“We’ve had lots of injuries this season, so it’s a relief we didn’t pick up any more. The cup final might come to soon for Eddie [Malone], but we’ve got a few that all hopefully clear up in time for the cup final.”
Spartans: Cardwell, Herd, McNab, Dishington, Thomson, Greenville, Brown, Stevenson, Murray, Beesley (Hunter 72), Horribine (Sanderson 90).
Stirling University: Marshall, Barnes, Walker, Cuff, Ashe, Faulds, Pahlevan, Gillen(Jones 78), Duah-Kessie, McCafferty (Geddes 63), Sludden.