Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale boss Raymond Carr was critical of the extreme fixture schedule imposed on his players in recent weeks after Kelty Hearts beat his side 3-1 at New Central Park to claim the Central Taxis East of Scotland title on the final day.
Lothian’s win over their opponents at Saughton Enclosure seven days previously, and subsequent midweek victories over local rivals Tynecastle meant they required a point in the Kingdom to retain their title.
It proved to be a game too far, however, as an excellent overhead kick from Stuart Cargill and a Murray Carstairs goal gave Kelty a 2-0 lead.
Louis Swanson’s penalty on the stroke of half-time put Lothian back in it, but they looked like a team that had played six games in 11 days as the second half wore on, and former Lothian man Scott Taylor-McKenzie put the destination of the title beyond doubt with a fine strike in stoppage time. Kelty now go on to play South of Scotland League champions Threave Rovers in a play-off to decide who joins the Lowland League next season.
Despite a monumental effort from his players, Carr was left lamenting the fatigue caused by such a punishing run of games.
“We knew coming into the game it could be one too many having played two games midweek and them only playing one,” he said.
“It was always going to be a tough challenge as the boys are absolutely drained. They’re still sitting in that dressing-room with pride, though. We’ve played Kelty four times this season and beaten them in three. With a fully fit team, I think we would’ve beaten them today. Without any shadow of a doubt, we’re a better footballing side, we use the ball better and it’s just unlucky that it came down to fixtures and fatigue that have cost us.”
Carr believes the league officals have to look at how they schedule games in future to prevent placing such demands on players.
“I’m not sure how the league works but I can’t believe it,” he said. “We represented them in the Scottish Cup, getting a good run for them as the lowest-ranked club getting to the third round playing St Mirren, then they fire all these fixtures at us.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. Why not play the amount of games that you need to at the start of the season, so you get them in when the weather’s good? Any teams with grass pitches, the winter is going to put their games off. This is me on my soapbox again, though, but it wasn’t Kelty that beat us, it was fatigue.”
Carr hailed his players for taking it to the wire.
“We always wanted to do that,” he explained. “We didn’t want Kelty winning the league unbeaten and the effort we’ve put in this last week has been unbelievable, playing four games to their one. It’s been a great achievement for the boys to take it to the final day.
“Congratulations to Kelty though. They can only beat who’s in front of them but it shows you how bad the league is when other teams can’t take the opportunity to stand up to them. That’s two years on the trot with only one league defeat all season, though, so I can’t commend them highly enough.”
With 13 new clubs – including Junior sides Bonnyrigg Rose and Musselburgh Athletic – joining the division next season, Carr expects a different challenge, but one his team will be prepared for.
“It’ll be a stronger division, but we know the teams coming in,” he said. “We’ve played and beaten Junior teams but what we need to do now is get a stronger squad.”
Kelty Hearts: Christie, Leighton, Courts, Carstairs, O’Neil, Riitchie, Husband, McCabe, Greig (E Douglas 68), Cargill (Taylor-McKenzie 77), Dalziel (Nimmo 54).
Lothian Thistle HV: Swain, Moore, O’Donnell, Crawford, Shala (Molloy 54), Muir, Hare (Hutchison 65), Brown, Murray, McGregor, Swanson (Nhamburo 71).