Preston Athletic’s Jake MacDonald made a debut to remember, coming off the bench to effectively win the game with his first touch of the ball for the club in Saturday’s shock 2-0 win at Spartans.
The substitute netted the decisive second with four minutes remaining after Dale O’Hara’s first half free-kick had given The Panners an unexpected lead. MacDonald admitted it was the first time he’d kicked a ball competitively in months, having yet to even train with his new team-mates.
“It was my first game back for a few months,” he revealed. “I was playing at North Merchi 19s last year and a lot of boys went off to uni and things, so the team folded. I’ve not been playing as I’ve been working full-time, so for my first touch back in the game since about June, it’s not bad! I spoke to Willie [Kirk] on Wednesday about coming in and didn’t make it to training on Thursday, so was told to come along today really to make up numbers – and then that happened!”
It was a match of few real clear-cut chances for either side, despite the champions dominating possession for long periods. Keith McLeod tested Preston keeper John Gilberston early on with a left-footed shot before trying to slide Jack Beacher’s pass home from close range, only for Gilberston to smother the chance well.
There were 21 minutes played before the visitors’ first real attempt. Taylor Aitchison turned sharply on the edge of the area before getting off a low shot that was well held by Kevin Swain in the Spartans goal.
Kirk’s men made the breakthrough on 27 minutes. Jack McIntyre was felled on the edge of the area and Dale O’Hara stepped up to dispatch the resulting free-kick into Swain’s bottom right-hand corner.
The second half predictably saw the home side throw everything at Preston in an attempt to get back in the game. Gary Cennerazzo should have at least hit the target with a 55th minute header, before Beesley’s close-range, deflected shot was headed off the line by Liam Todd. Sub Errol Douglas couldn’t connect properly with Beesley’s wicked 63rd-minute delivery, before the same two players combined with the same result with 15 remaining.
You sensed it wasn’t Spartans day and that was confirmed when MacDonald slid home Paul Devlin’s cutback to seal the win four minutes from time.
Preston boss Willie Kirk had spent the week in Germany on a coaching development study trip in his SFA role, and said he’d tried to use one or two things he’d learned to assists his players. “I spoke to them about a few things I’d seen in Germany. The Germans aren’t born better footballers – it’s how hard they work, the commitment and the focus. We spoke about that before the game and you definitely saw the boys were committed and focused today.”
Defeat for Spartans ended their long unbeaten run and leaves them trailing Edinburgh City by ten points. Manager Dougie Samuel conceded it would take a real collapse for anyone to catch the leaders now.
“It’s Edinburgh City’s title and the disappointing thing is we’ve not been able to put them under any real pressure and really get in their rear-view mirror, but that’s to take nothing away from them, they’ve been phenomenal.”
Spartans: Swain, Nixon (Brown 45), Cennerazzo, Sivewright, MacKinnon, Stevenson, Beesley, Bremner, Beacher (Douglas 60), McLeod (Henretty 67), Motion.
Preston Ath: Gilbertson, L Todd, Bruce, J Todd (Baillie 51), O’Hara, Thomson, Stewart, Devlin, McIntyre (Fergus 54), Aitchison (MacDonald 85), Strachan.