Civil Service Strollers have been a good addition to the Lowland League this season. On Saturday, they added another string to their bow by spoiling champions-elect East Kilbride’s title party.
The South Lanarkshire side, spurred on by a large travelling support, were forced to put the champagne on ice for at least another week having failed to secure the win that would have seen them across the finishing line.
All was going according to plan as a Sean Winter penalty had the visitors in control at the break. However, Winter spurned a second opportunity from 12 yards just five minutes after the restart and Kilby were left to rue that miss as Davey Stewart’s leveller just 60 seconds later – again from the penalty spot – gave Strollers a well-deserved 1-1 draw.
The Capital side, meanwhile, still have their sights on a top-half finish. Against East Kilbride they were without manager Alex Cunningham, who was at his daughter’s wedding. And, despite a strong opening half from the league leaders, Strollers weathered the storm and were more than worthy of a point for their endeavours.
“East Kilbride are going to win the league so to match them for ninety minutes is a huge credit to the boys,” said assistant manager Paul Greenhill. “It was frantic at times as the pitch wasn’t conducive to playing a lot of good football but we definitely deserved a point and I feel we had the better chances in the second half.
“You never want to see a team win the league on your pitch so there is some satisfaction that we’ve played in front of a big crowd and frustrated them. I think they turned up in their numbers fully expecting to win by maybe three or four but, when we play like the way we did, I think we’re a match for anyone.”
Having made the step up from the East of Scotland League last summer, Strollers, currently 12th, are now within three points of eighth-placed Whitehill Welfare.
“Our season isn’t going to be defined by games against East Kilbride so if we can play like that against the teams around us then we’ll pick up more points than we’ll lose,” Greenhill said. “This last part of the season is about us finishing as high up the league as we can and then building for next year.
“It’s been a good season overall so if we can finish in the top half, which is still achievable, then that would be a solid foundation to build on.”
Strollers were forced to put together something of a depleted squad for the visit of Kilby. Winger David Churchill was deployed in attack but it was from his challenge that saw the visitors edge in front on the 20-minute mark.
Adam Strachan, who was a menace down the left all afternoon, went over the trailing leg of Churchill and Winter duly obliged despite the best efforts of Stuart Burnside in the home side’s goal.
Strachan saw a looped effort land on the top of the net before Burnside did well to turn away full-back’s Fabio Capuano’s powerful drive from 20 yards.
Former Hearts striker Russell McLean, who had been on loan at Strollers earlier on in this season, almost doubled Kilby’s lead only to see his header blocked.
McLean was hauled down inside the area five minutes into the second half but Winter couldn’t complete a brace of penalties as Burnside threw himself down to turn the ball out for a corner.
And the visitors were made to pay within 60 seconds as Jordan Finnie’s run was brought to a halt by Capuano and Stewart lashed the resulting penalty home to restore parity.
Civil Service Strollers: Burnside, Newalls, Dingwall, Laird, Watson, Clapperton (Turnbull 85), Stewart, Ballantyne, Churchill, Finnie, Boyle (Smith 14). Subs: Torrance, Campbell, Brown.
East Kilbride: McGinley, Capuano, Russell, Proctor, Howie, Gibbons, Winter, Coll (McBride 65 Victoria 79), McLean (McNeil 85), Strachan, Woods. Subs: Stevenson, Hughes, Kean.