NEWTONGRANGE STAR frontman George Hunter has set his sights on becoming East of Scotland top goalscorer after taking his tally to 14 league goals for the season during their 4-2 victory over Musselburgh Athletic.
The former Spartans and St Johnstone striker helped to put the Olivebank men to the sword with a brace – and passed up several other opportunities to seal his hat-trick at New Victoria Park.
The result ensured that Stevie McLeish’s Star closed the gap on Conference A leaders Penicuik to just four points and denied Burgh the chance to move seven points clear of them in the table.
Hunter, who has 25 goals in all competitions so far this term, remains upbeat about the chances of catching Penicuik hitman Wayne McIntosh.
“I’m very happy with the way things are going,” the 22-year-old said afterwards.
“There are a few boys in the East of Scotland league that have scored quite a lot already and I’ve been keeping my eye on it a wee bit.
“That’s me now scored six goals in three games and I’m just aiming to find the back of the net as often as I can for the team.
“The pitch wasn’t in great condition, but it was always going to be an entertaining game against one of our close rivals. There is a bit of hostility there and it gave the game more of an edge.
“We were quite disappointed with the way we played against Penicuik (4-0 loss) a few weeks ago, but the boys have responded well since then. We just need to cut out the silly errors.”
Hunter linked up well on numerous occasions with Kyle Lander, who recently returned to the club for a second spell after a year in Australia.
And he believes their partnership, combined with the experience of fellow striker Sean Jamieson, who is nearing a return to full fitness, is a recipe for success.
“There’s no doubt we’ve got plenty of goals in our team and it will give the manager a selection headache now that Kyle is back and Sean is close to returning,” Hunter added.
“I’ve got a good relationship with Kyle, we played together at Livingston and St Johnstone, so we both work well together.”
This was the first meeting between the teams since April 2016. Newtongrange held the upper hand having won seven of their previous 12 encounters when both clubs competed in the East Super League.
The opening goal arrived after 24 minutes. Kyle Scott clipped the ball into the penalty area and Ali Forster reacted quickest to nip in front of Liam Reid and flick a header past the outstretched Ali Adams and into the far corner of the goal.
Musselburgh were then dealt a huge blow before the break when they lost their skipper and main talisman Mathu King to a head knock.
Hunter doubled Star’s advantage after 54 minutes when he escaped the offside trap and rifled a powerful effort across the keeper ansd into the net.
The game was seemingly over as a contest just beyond the hour mark when midfielder Stevie Thomson squeezed Scott Swaney’s free-kick past Adams in the visitors’ goal from an acute angle. However, straight from kick-off, Scott Moffat curled home a shot from the edge of the box to give Burgh a glimmer of hope.
An unlikely comeback was on the cards when full-back Michael Moffat capitalised on some poor defending from the home side to make it 3-2.
Those hopes were quickly extinguished when John McManus was shown a straight red card by referee Greig Haynes for an off-the-ball incident after consulting with his linesman.
It was Hunter who put the game beyond doubt right at the death when he tapped home into an empty net, following a sweeping move involving Lander and Sean Melvin.
Musselburgh boss Calvin Shand felt aggrieved with some of the refereeing decisions that went against his side but was more concerned by their poor display.
He admitted: “A lot of decisions went against us today, but the ref’s performance hasn’t caused this result, it’s down to ourselves and we need to be much better.
“Our performance wasn’t good enough, but I don’t think the scoreline is a true reflection of the game. It was quite open, and both teams had plenty of chances. We’ve been on a decent winning run of late, so we’ll learn from this and work hard to improve.”
Newtongrange Star: Renton, Swaney, Mitchell (Lowson; 90), Young, Melvin, Forster, Richardson (Porteous; 49), Thomson, Scott (Currie; 83), Lander, Hunter. Subs: Dunsmore (GK), Wilson, Jamieson
Musselburgh Athletic: Adams, Reid, Myles, McManus, M. Moffat, Cherrie, Thomson, King (Evans; 39), Deland, S. Moffat, Gillan (Whyte; 58). Subs: Tufail (GK), Maskery, Callachan, Hogg
Referee: Greig Haynes