Preston Athletic suffered King Cup heartache as they lost 7-6 on penalties to East of Scotland League champions Kelty Hearts at King’s Park, Dalkeith.
The Panners more than matched the Fife club for 120 minutes and had gone in front from a Greg Binnie spot-kick midway through the second half. Former Dunfermline Athletic midfielder Stephen Husband drew his side level – again from the penalty spot – six minutes later.
Both sides had opportunities to win the match, Preston’s Jack Jardine passing up a gilt-edged chance in extra time as he was denied by Kelty No.1 Scott Christie. Paul Riley and Jack Lynch’s men did, however, have to play out the final minute with ten men after Steven Campbell was shown a second yellow card.
Kelty won the toss and elected to go first in the shoot-out and, following Scott Taylor-MacKenzie’s miss, David Liddle had the chance to secure cup glory for the Pennypit men. However, the central defender blazed his effort over the crossbar.
With Ian Nimmo netting, Jonny Grotlin had to score to keep his side’s hopes alive. However, the on-loan Spartans winger saw his effort saved by Christie to seal a league and cup double for Kelty, who will be plying their trade in the Lowland League next season.
Despite falling at the final hurdle, Riley couldn’t have been more proud of his players.
“To lose on penalties it’s a sore one but I actually couldn’t be any prouder,” he said. “We’ve matched the best team in the league. It came down to a toss of the coin. On another day, we might have won but the boys proved there’s a new Preston.
“We’ve finished third in the league and taken the best team in the league to 120 minutes in a cup final so I’m very happy. It was a fantastic game. I’m disappointed to have a player sent off so late but it was tiredness. Kelty have scored hundreds of goals this season so to restrict them to one, and from a penalty, is very pleasing.
“I told the players before the game that no matter the score I am so proud of them. My team showed that they are real men.
“I think we can go away and have a break now and start next season with some confidence. It bodes well, it will be a new challenge with the league expanding so they’ll have four weeks off and then they will be back. We’ve got to be right on the money when we start again in August. Hopefully people on the outside can see we are making progress.”
Preston’s Ross Cowan thought he had opened the scoring in the first half only to see his effort cleared off the line by a Kelty defender.
Kelty could count themselves unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty when the ball appeared to strike the arm of Dale Pennycuick before Binnie went agonisingly close at the other end as his effort landed just wide of the far post.
But Binnie won his side a penalty after going down under the challenge of Christie and he coolly slotted home the resulting spot-kick. Preston’s lead was short-lived, however, Cowan’s rash challenge giving Husband the chance from 12 yards which he duly converted.
It was fitting that the match should be decided by penalties but despite a heroic effort, it wasn’t to be Preston’s day.
Preston Athletic: C Pennycuick, Cowan, Walker, Liddle (Innes 68), Campbell, Woodcock (L McFarlane 63), M McFarlane, D Pennycuick, Binnie, Grotlin, Cochrane (Jardine 90). Subs: Inglis, Dmitrov, Conway.
Kelty Hearts: Christie, Ford (McCabe 120), Courts, Carstairs, Leighton, Husband, Ritchie (Taylor-MacKenzie 103), Nimmo, Dalziel (Douglas 80), Cargill, Philp. Subs: Gibb, Greig.