Lowland League: Spartans enjoy great boost to title hopes

Spartans' Ian McFarland, right, challenges Selkirk's Daryl Healy. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Spartans' Ian McFarland, right, challenges Selkirk's Daryl Healy. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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Midfielder Ian McFarland believes Spartans have taken a huge step towards their first Lowland League title in four years following their 2-1 victory over Selkirk.

Not only was the former Edinburgh City player delighted to have emerged with all three points from a hard-fought encounter at Ainslie Park, he was ecstatic to learn nearest title challengers BSC Glasgow and East Kilbride had lost 1-0 to East Stirlingshire and Edinburgh University respectively.

Dougie Samuel’s men remain third in the table but are now just five points adrift of current leaders BSC and, crucially, they have four games in hand. Reigning champions East Kilbride, who are second, are just two points better off than the Edinburgh outfit and have played two games more.

And McFarland, who joined Spartans in the summer, is now of the mindset their destiny is very much in their own hands.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve been involved in cup games but BSC have been dropping points so it’s been great from our perspective,” the 27-year-old said. “We’ve got four games in hand on BSC and two on East Kilbride so it’s in our own hands. We just need to keep battling away and take each game as it comes. We’re definitely in a good position at this stage of the season.”

Following a goalless first half, Spartans had to wait until the 80th minute for the breakthrough, Ross Allum winning and scoring a penalty. However, the Borders side responded and were level through George Hunter’s strike just four minutes later.

But McFarland’s run and shot was parried by goalkeeper Gregor Amos into the path of a substitute trialist who knocked home the winner with just two minutes left on the clock.

“That was one of the hardest games we’ve had this season,” McFarland said. “Selkirk had a game plan as they were sitting in and trying to hit us on the break. It was frustrating but we finally got the breakthrough and then we go and make it harder for ourselves again. It’s a fantastic three points though.

“I’ve had stick about my shooting since I’ve been here so I thought it was going to be my moment. The keeper made a great save but I was delighted to see it go in.”

Jason Stevens’ snap shot from the edge of the box went just wide of Amos’ right-hand post midway through the first half.

Allum had the ball in the net a couple of minutes later but referee Scott Millar adjudged the striker to have fouled Amos in the build up.

The same player should have done better when he met Craig Stevenson’s cross but his header landed on top of the net.

A Ryan Sclater free-kick from 20 yards grazed the top of the Spartans net five minutes before the interval as the visitors began to show their intent.

Hunter then blazed over from just a couple of yards and Jordan Hopkinson’s effort from the area flashed just wide.

But Spartans got the goal they craved when Allum was tripped just as he was about to pull the trigger and Millar pointed to the spot. The former Edinburgh City striker took the kick himself sending Amos the wrong way.

Hunter’s acute finish just three minutes later appeared to have denied the Capital side all three points until the trialist pounced on the loose ball to score.

Elsewhere, Whitehill Welfare were beaten 2-0 by Edusport Academy at Galabank, Connor Higgins and Mikey Hewitt with the goals for the home side.

And despite taking a 15th-minute lead through Stephen Froude, Civil Service Strollers went down 3-1 at the Falkirk Stadium to Stirling University. Dominic Slattery, Blair Lyons and Cameron Hall were on target for the students.