Spartans’ SPFL League Two dream is over for another year despite a 2–1 victory over Cove Rangers in their Pyramid play-off semi-final second-leg at Ainslie Park.
It was always going to be a big ask if the Capital side were to overturn Saturday’s 4-0 first-leg loss in Aberdeenshire against the Highland League champions and despite a gritty display from Dougie Samuel’s men, it is Cove who progress to this weekend’s League Two play-off final first leg against Cowdenbeath with a 5-2 victory on aggregate.
Samuel made five changes to the team that started in Inverurie, Gary Cennerazzo, Blair Atkinson, Craig Stevenson, Guillermo Lamarca and Jamie Dishington all preferred to Paul Thomson, Ian McFarland, Scott Maxwell, David Greenhill and Jason Stevens who dropped to the bench.
Cove’s Mitch Megginson was the thorn in the Spartans side at Harlaw Park four days ago and he again showed his intent from the off.
In the 20th minute, the former Raith Rovers and Alloa striker weaved his way into the Spartans penalty box and drew a fine stop from Blair Carswell, who got down low to turn his net-bound shot around the post.
The home side were enjoying the lion’s share of possession, with both Stevenson and Cennerazzo proving a threat down the left wing. However, similarly to the first leg, Spartans found the Cove rearguard determined to keep a clean sheet.
Harry Milne, though, spurned a great opportunity to fire the visitors into the lead after breaking free from midway inside the Spartans half but the defender blazed over with just Carswell to beat.
Carswell was again in fine form as he denied the powerful left foot of Megginson again before the half was out.
Megginson, though, thought he’d eventually got the better of his opponent on the hour mark. The tricky No.9 picked up possession 25 yards from goal and jinked his way past Cennerazzo before sending a curling shot across goal that grazed the tips of Carswell’s fingers and on to the keeper’s right-hand post.
However, Paul McManus, who had been kept quiet by defensive central pairing Blair Tolmie and Adam Corbett, put the tie beyond down in the 67th minute.
Youngster Corbett mistimed a long clearance from the Cove defence and McManus showed great control to direct his half-volley beyond the reach of Carswell and into the net.
Nevertheless, the hosts did manage to breach the Cove goal and it was no more than their efforts deserved as Dishington guided a well-placed header past Stuart McKenzie from close range.
Spartans appeared to grow in confidence and they took the lead with four minutes remaining when Dishington’s shot was parried into the path of Blair Atkinson, the 21-year-old showing great composure to sweep the ball into the far corner from a tight angle.
The Lowland League champions continued to press for more goals, but unfortunately the damage was done in the first leg.
Samuel had asked for his players to restore some pride and they more than did that as they brought down another successful season with a win. He said: “I’m really proud of the guys as they showed a real determination to get a positive result.
“The win means we can go into the summer happy with what we’ve achieved this season and feeling a bit better about ourselves. On Saturday we never landed a punch on them at any time in the game so it was just nice to have them rattled for ten minutes.
“There’s no shame in losing to a top side at this level because the quality Cove have is there for everybody to see. I think we’ve learned a lot on and off the park and our younger players have had a great experience and they’ll be better for it.”
Spartans: Carswell, Herd, Cennerazzo, Tolmie, Corbett, Brown, Atkinson, Stevenson (Greenhill 76), Lamarca (Stevens 76), Dishington, Bremner (Maxwell 60). Subs: Stobie, Thomson, McFarland, Allum.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, Redford, Milne, Ross, Watson, Kelly, Park (Robertson 76), Scully, Megginson, McManus (Stott 70), Masson. Subs: McCafferty, Milne, Gray.
Referee: Steven Reid.