Spartans and Stirling University remain as the only two unbeaten teams in the Central Taxis Premier Division after they shared the points in an end-to-end 1-1 draw on the partly snow-covered Ainslie Park.
The game was only able to go ahead thanks to an army of Spartans followers, including former head coach Raleigh Gowrie who is now the Sports Development Manager at Stirling University, clearing the snow from the playing surface right up until just before the kick-off. The match referee, Billy Cooper, also deserves praise for his positive attitude in terms of wanting to have the game played.
However, the Stirling University coach, Steve Burchill was not entirely in agreement with the match official. “To be honest I don’t think that the game should have been played,” said Burchill. “If the whole pitch had been cleared of snow, then fine, but there were different areas – some with snow and some with no snow – that were just not right for football. I thought that it would be more difficult to pass the ball and to be fair to the players in both teams I think that they played with a wee bit of caution.
“There were no crazy challenges and it actually wasn’t too bad once the game got under way but when I arrived my thoughts were that no way should the game be played.”
The game did indeed go ahead though and it was the league leaders, Spartans, who were first to threaten when an Omar Kader corner from the right was hit acrobatically over the bar by Donal Henretty. Kader then had two consecutive corners cleared by a very well organised Stirling defence before the students tested Spartans with a James Drummond cross which Alasdair MacKinnon headed clear, then Creag Robertson shot over from a good position in the penalty box.
Kader’s trickery was causing the Stirling defence problems and after good work wide on the left he found Keith McLeod but the normally reliable striker struck his effort high over the bar from eight yards out.
Much of the play was contained in a hectic midfield area with neither goalkeeper really called into action although Kierann McCaffrey’s 30 yard free-kick was comfortably held by Chris Flockhart. Another Kader cross was directed past the near post by Henretty before, at the other end, Robertson fired an 18 yard shot over the bar.
Kerr Dodds went close for Spartans then McLeod missed the target and Robbie Manson, at full stretch, headed wide from within the six yard box.
The best chance of the first half fell to Spartans’ defender Daniel O’Donnell who found himself with time and space in the Stirling penalty box but he completely mis-hit his shot and the danger was cleared.
The second half began with Spartans again on the offensive and Kader set up Gavin Malin who side-footed the ball high over the bar from ten yards.
Stirling had claims for a penalty waved aside when Robert Pearson was bundled to the ground by O’Donnell although the students did take the lead in the 63rd minute. Good build up play involving Chris Geddes and half-time substitute Emmot Parr-Gallagher saw the latter cross the ball to the back post where Craig Mason rose to head the ball into the net behind Flockhart.
With Spartans’ unbeaten record on the line they introduced Jordan Finnie to the action and within a minute of his arrival they were back on level terms. An O’Donnell cross into the penalty box fell kindly for Kader who struck a first time shot into the roof of the net with only 14 minutes remaining.
“The ball fell to me and I hit it quite well and was happy to see it going into the net,” smiled Kader afterwards. “That gave us a lift and after that we had a couple of wee half chances.”
Kader’s summation of the closing fifteen minutes or so was absolutely correct with Spartans having a succession of corners which did not unduly trouble the Stirling defence who were happy to play the game out, although Blair McWhirter did test Flockhart late in the game with a 20-yard strike.
The draw means that both clubs remain unbeaten and they are challenging for the league title along with three or four other teams in what could be the tightest championship for many seasons.
Burchill, the Stirling coach, added: “Both teams played with similar systems which to a certain extent cancelled each other out. We have managed to get through a tough opening six games without losing any. We felt that the onus was on Spartans to come and attack us. It was a late call to put our goalscorer, Craig Mason, in but he is a great kid with a great engine and he has scored a few goals for us.
“Omar Kader has been a thorn in our side although I could not see where a Spartans goal was coming from but Omar popped up and scored. We controlled everyone else although a draw was a fair result. We are a harder nut to crack now and we have definitely progressed a lot.”
Mike Lawson, Spartans co-manager, said: “The pitch was not ideal but it was not dangerous so the game had to go ahead. Over the 90 minutes Stirling probably had more possession but we had the better chances. We should have hit the target more often and although we created goalmouth incidents a draw was probably a fair result.
“Stirling scored in one of their few attacks in the second half. They weren’t around our penalty box very often. Once they got their goal they were very professional although they became more defensive and that gave us the impetus to go forward.
“Omar can beat men and he can score goals. He is a lovely lad and he scored a wonderful goal. This result will have pleased the Strollers, Whitehill Welfare and Gretna who will all be delighted that Stirling and Spartans have both dropped two points.”
Spartans: Flockhart, O’Donnell, Fusco, Sivewright, MacKinnon, Malin, Kader, Manson, Dodds, McLeod (Anderson, 88), Henretty (Finnie, 75). Subs: McTurk, Seeley, Grant.
Stirling University: Walker, Nixon, McKee, Atkins, Drummond, McCaffrey (Parr-Gallagher, 46), Pentland, Robertson, Geddes, Mason (McWhirter, 81), Pearson. Subs: Hoyle, Dines, Harkness.
Referee: W Cooper.