STAND-IN striker Blair Atkinson hopes his first-half hat-trick for Spartans against East Stirlingshire has given manager Dougie Samuel a selection headache after the Edinburgh club edged a seven-goal thriller.
The young striker has found first-team opportunities difficult to come by in recent seasons, largely down to the form of Jack Smith, and the now departed trio of Keith McLeod, Aaron Murrell and Ross Allum.
However, the 22-year-old grabbed his chance at Ainslie Park on Saturday after being handed a rare starting berth, with Smith side-lined until after the new year with a hamstring tear. Atkinson savoured the moment after bagging himself three goals for the second time in his short senior career to bring a welcome end to Spartans’ seven-match run without a victory.
David Greenhill also converted a spot-kick, which lifted Spartans to third in the table.
“It’s hard being on the bench each week, but you just know that when you get your chance you’ve got to take it,” Atkinson said. “I haven’t scored many hat-tricks at this level, more so when I was coming through the academy. I had only one last year so it’s always nice to do it again.
“It was really good to get the call that I was going to start. It’s a chance for me to get my foot in the door. It’s a shame on Jack, but hopefully I can impress and try to stay in the team. All I can do is keep scoring goals and give Dougie something to think about.”
Atkinson, who has spent his entire career with Spartans after joining aged five, hopes their battling 4-3 victory can be the catalyst behind another winning streak.
“We made a good start and things seemed to be going well for us in the first half. We sat off them a bit and released our grip on the game in the second half which allowed them back in. We became a bit ragged and they scored two late goals, but it was pleasing to get a win.
“With a few other games being off, it’s allowed us to climb up a few places, so we could do with putting another run of results together.”
The home side raced into an early lead when Atkinson tapped home at the back post before Shire defender Chris McKee conceded a penalty after his blatant push on Stephen MacDonald. Greenhill converted from 12 yards and Paul McCafferty did likewise shortly afterwards to haul the visitors back into the contest.
Atkinson restored Spartans’ two-goal cushion with a diving header from a free-kick then completed his hat-trick on the stroke of half-time after linking up with strike partner MacDonald and prodding a shot into the far corner of the net.
The visitors had a mountain to climb when McKee was given his marching orders after picking up a second yellow card. But Allum struck against former club to make it 4-2 and McCafferty beat Blair Carswell from outside the box 60 seconds later. There was still time for substitute Craig Stevenson to be shown a straight red card as both teams clashed in the dying moments.
Elsewhere, Civil Service Strollers came from behind for the second week running to beat Gretna 2-1. Daniel Smales had put the visitors in front at Christie Gillies Park only for Andrew Mair, and last week’s match-winner David Churchill, to again swing the game in Civil’s favour.