Leith Athletic ended 2014 on a high after a 3-1 victory over nine-man Civil Service Strollers ensured that Derek Riddel’s title-chasers will remain top of the Central Taxis Premier Division at the start of the new year.
With all the other East of Scotland fixtures wiped out due to the wintry weather, attention was focused on Meadowbank 3G as Athletic went in search of their first league win in four matches to keep their title aspirations on track, while Strollers were looking to return to winning ways after back-to-back defeats to Heriot Watt University and Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale respectively.
It was the visitors who made the brighter start and they rattled the Leith crossbar after just 10 minutes when Steven Moncur’s header came back off the woodwork.
Ross McNeil’s side took a deserved lead five minutes later when James Guy curled in an effort from the edge of the area after an assist from Chris Tobin.
Leith were struggling to make any impression against a well organised Civil outfit, who were sharper and more coherent with their passing play.
But the home side scored a fantastic equaliser on 23 minutes when prolific striker Keith Murray netted with a looping 25-yard effort from near the touchline for his 22nd goal of the season in all competitions.
The equaliser sparked the hosts into life with Christopher Barrie stabbing an effort narrowly wide, and Robbie Mason heading over and Sean Murphy hitting the side-netting after rounding Stuart Burnside in the Strollers goal.
The major talking point came on 34 minutes with a double sending off for the visitors. Jake Moyes was given his marching orders for a challenge on Kenny Hall, then midfielder Dayne Robertson followed his team-mate into the dressing room with a second bookable offence for dissent.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, Civil had to alter their formation drastically with a five-man midfield as Leith aimed to take advantage.
The Alex Jack Cup holders stepped up the pace in the second half and they took the lead on 70 minutes when centre back Mark Leslie cracked a swerving shot from fully 30 yards into the top corner.
Five minutes later, Athletic put the game beyond Civil’s reach when man-of-the-match Murray raced onto a Euan Campbell through ball and was sent tumbling by Burnside, who received a caution as the referee pointed to the spot.
Murray confidently stepped up to stroke his penalty down the middle and he had a chance to net a hat-trick for the second league game running a couple of minutes later, but his head-flick from a Hall cross went wide of the post with Stephen Baigan also going close late on.
Afterwards, Athletic midfielder Gary Black reflected on a superb first half to the season for the table toppers, which has seen them lose just two matches in 20 competitive fixtures.
“I don’t think anybody can deny we have been the best team in the East of Scotland league for the first half of the season – we won a trophy, we’re in the semi-finals of the Image Printers Cup and we’re top of the league,” he said.
“It’s a great achievement for what is still a very young squad.
Civil manager Ross McNeil was left feeling a little deflated afterwards, admitting the sendings off had a major influence on the outcome of the game.
“For the first 20 minutes we were well on top. Then came the two red cards and, whilst I thought Jake’s (Moyes) one may have been a little harsh, Dayne can have no complaints about his as you can’t react to the referee like that.”
Leith Athletic: Gordon, Allan, Hall, Black, Leslie, Beaton, Barrie, Murphy, Murray, Mason, Baigan. Subs: Campbell, Hainey, Trialist, Trialist, Burns.
Civil Service Strollers: Burnside, Moyes, Campbell, Greenhill, Moffat, Ritchie, Tobin, Guy, Robertson, McGaghie, Moncur. Subs: Newalls, McWilliams, Hendrie, Christie.
Referee: Michael Banks.