Spartans boss Dougie Samuel was able to draw on a lot of positives despite a 1-0 defeat to reigning Lowland League champions East Kilbride.
Ross McNeil’s first-half goal condemned the Capital side to just their second league defeat of the season on Saturday.
However, Samuel insisted his team outplayed Billy Stark’s men for long periods of the game, particularly in the second half where they carved out numerous goalscoring opportunities and also had strong appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Colin Steven.
The loss at K-Park sees the Ainslie Park side drop to third in the table, four points adrift of current league leaders BSC Glasgow while Kilby leapfrog their opponents into second. Spartans, though, do have a game in hand over their nearest rivals.
“I thought our performance levels were really good. We were punished for two errors in the first half but over the piece we were the better side,” Samuel said.
“The goal came against the run of play and gave them that confidence and we never quite recovered from in terms of our composure for the rest of the first half. But, after the interval, we played on the front foot and created numerous opportunities to score. We have to give them credit because they’ve defended their box and put bodies on the line.
“If we get the penalty and score it then we go on and win the game so we just feel hugely frustrated. But, we’ve played the champions, away from home, dominated more than I expected so in some ways we can go away with more confidence and belief that we can contest title this year.
“There’s a long way to go. I think the league title will go to the wire this year because there are a lot of strong teams in the league and points will be dropped between now and the end of the campaign.”
Samuel was incensed by the decision not to award his side a penalty when an Alan Brown cross midway through the second half clearly struck the arm of Kilby defender David Proctor.
“Proctor’s arm is detached from his body so my understanding is that if you stop the cross in that situation then it’s a penalty – there’s no decision to be made,” Samuel explained. “I think the referee was nervous about making one or two big decisions so it was one of those days were it didn’t go our way.”
It was the visitors who looked the more assured in possession in the opening quarter of an hour but they fell behind when a Kieran Gibbons cross picked out the run of Scott Stevenson and, from the full-back’s knockdown, the unmarked McNeil was on hand to stab home the ball from just a couple of yards.
Spartans’ response saw a Craig Stevenson cross from the left met first time by Brown but the former Whitehill Welfare player couldn’t angle his header on target as his effort went a fraction wide of Stuart Kean’s left-hand post.
Kean had to be alert to turn away a fierce drive from captain Michael Herd before youngster Adam Corbett missed a gilt-edged chance right on the stroke of half-time, heading wide David Greenhill’s corner when it seemed easier to score.
Jamie Dishington has had a fine season so far but he couldn’t direct Stevenson’s pinpoint cross on target ten minutes after the restart.
Spartans continued to press for the equaliser and were wrongfully denied a spot-kick when referee Steven failed to penalise Proctor for stopping a Brown cross with his left arm.
Both Ross Allum and Blair Tolmie went agonisingly close for Samuel’s men late on but they couldn’t find a way through a resilient Kilby defence.
East Kilbride: Kean, Stevenson, Russell, Proctor, Howie, Gibbons, Winter, McBride, McNeil (Graham 67), Anderson (Millar 71), Strachan. Subs: Coll, Hughes, Coogans, Campbell, McGinley.
Spartans: Stobie, Herd, Stevenson, Thomson, Tolmie, Greenhill (Atkinson 68), Brown (Khutsishvil 88), Corbett, Allum (Guthrie 79), McFarland, Dishington. Subs: Carswell, Maxwell, Nixon.