Paul Sludden helps Spartans to a vital victory

Spartans were denied by Gretna's Graham Wright on this occasion but they beat the keeper twice to seal the points. Brandon Longcake, below, scored for Gretna.  Picture: Lesley Martin
Spartans were denied by Gretna's Graham Wright on this occasion but they beat the keeper twice to seal the points. Brandon Longcake, below, scored for Gretna. Picture: Lesley Martin
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A Paul Sludden brace earned Spartans their first Lowland League win at Ainslie Park since November as they beat Gretna 2008.

The striker netted in either half and maybe should have had a hat-trick before Brandon Longcake’s stunning second-half strike ensured a nervy last few minutes.

Sludden, the on-loan Stenhousemuir man was delighted to get his first goals, but was more concerned with claiming Spartans’ first three points since he arrived in North Edinburgh. “Winning is the most important thing,” he said. “Since I’ve come here we hadn’t managed to win any games – that was the job to do.

“You saw the way the boys at the back dug in together at the end and we got the result. It’s good to get the goals but that’s my job. I need to do that to be in the team as it’s a difficult team to get in with the competition for places.

“I probably should have had a hat-trick with the chances I had. Even the one just after my second when the ref gave a foul I thought was a bit soft.”

Both teams posed an attacking threat during an even first period, with the hosts carving out the better chances. Jack Beesley’s ball over the top picked out Willie Bremner in the fifth minute, but the striker’s volley with the outside of his foot went straight at Graham Wright in the Gretna goal.

Spartans went so close on 18 minutes. Alan Brown’s corner was met forcefully by Ally MacKinnon, bring out a smart stop from Wright. An old-fashioned stramash ensued, featuring a couple of goal-line clearances and an excellent one-handed stop from Wright before the visitors were eventually awarded a free-kick.

Eddie Malone went close just past the half-hour, glancing over another delivery from Brown’s corner. However, the opener duly arrived on 33 minutes. Bremner’s driven cross was tuned back across goal on the stretch by Brown, and Sludden arrived on cue to smash home his first for his new club.

Connor Graham spurned Gretna’s best chance of the half five minutes before the break, knocking the ball over after keeper Kevin Swain fumbled at his far post. Brown almost immediately doubled his team’s advantage seconds later but Wright kept his back post header out at the second attempt.

Sludden was inches away from his and Spartans’ second ten minutes after the restart. Beesley’s corner was missed by Wright and the No.9’s prod goal-wards was hacked away off the line for another corner. Malone was close to a maiden Spartans goal of his own minutes later, Wright tipping over his free-kick from 25 yards.

It was 2-0 four minutes after the hour. Iain Thomson won possession deep in Gretna’s half before sliding the ball through to Sludden, who slotted home his and the home team’s second.

The on-loan Stenhousemuir man twice came close to his hat-trick. He first latched on to a long ball, lofting it over Wright but also just wide, then finding the net in an identical fashion shortly after, only to be penalised for a push.

Gretna got themselves back in the game on 76 minutes in spectacular fashion. Longcake weaved his way along the edge of the box before curling a wonderful left-foot strike past Swain’s outstretched right hand. Sludden had a further two opportunities to seal his hat-trick and the points, only for Wright to first save with his legs and then see a shot deflected just wide.

The hosts had Swain to thank for making sure they got a deserved three points, the keeper tipping over Scott Milligan’s stoppage time free-kick. Milligan thought he’d snatched a point from the resulting corner, but ref Duncan Williams blew for a foul on Swain.

Spartans manager Dougie Samuel said. “We’re delighted. I think it was thoroughly deserved on the balance of play.

“It was great for Sludden to get a brace. He could have had more but if you’d had offered me 2-1 at the start I’d have taken it.

“Two goals for him is ideal for his confidence. We played Newtongrange in a friendly midweek and beat them 2-1 so it’s been a good week for us.”

Spartans: Swain, Nixon, Cennerazzo, Malone, MacKinnon, Stevenson, Beesley, Thomson (Motion 69), Sludden, Bremner (Douglas 74), Brown.

Gretna 2008: Wright, Halliday (D Graham 86), Thorburn, Wallace, Inglis, Addison, Longcake, Main, Anderson (Slattery 69), Milligan, C Graham (McLean 81).