Whitehill Welfare extended their undefeated run to six games with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Stirling University.
There was a short presentation prior to kick-off with Whitehill’s Mike Bruce and Stirling’s Paul Jon Sludden receiving the East of Scotland Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer accolades respectively for their efforts last season, and it took a courageous effort from Bruce to take his place in the side for Saturday’s encounter as the player, who hadn’t trained all week due to a back injury, answered manager Mickey Lawson’s SOS call when central defender Willie Kidd pulled up in the pre-match warm-up.
Lawson, who was also without in-form striker Aaron Somerville, said: “The victory was made even sweeter because Aaron didn’t make it and then we had to change it during the warm-up with Willie Kidd pulling out, so that took great effort from the players.
“I would have settled for a 1-0 before the game so I’ll certainly settle for it after. It wasn’t a game for the purists.”
Underfoot conditions were tricky to say the least, large divots of turf regularly churned up as the players struggled to retain their balance throughout the 90 minutes.
A lively opening was always anticipated with the students in pursuit of closing the gap on Spartans at the league’s summit, and the hosts determined to continue their good run of form since the turn of the year.
Inspirational midfielder Andrew Kidd’s delivery from a free-kick he won on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area was whipped across goal, but Bruce just failed to make contact as the ball was eventually cleared by the Stirling rearguard.
Chris Geddes, leading the Stirling attack, was energetic with his movement and his ability to bring others into play and posing a real threat to Bryan Young’s goal, but it was team-mate Ryan Millar who caught first glimpses of the goal frame when he found space through at an angle, but his right-footed effort dragged wide of the Whitehill No.1’s right-hand post.
However, the hosts were just as penetrating in attack as their opponents were and edged in front just after the 20-minute mark through rather fortuitous circumstances.
Wayne McIntosh picked up a loose ball 25 yards from goal before, somehow, his tame effort on goal caused a comedy of errors in the Stirling defence as the ball made its way through a ruck of players and nestled into the bottom corner.
Then, just four minutes later, Eddie May’s side were reduced to ten men when Tomos Jones’ lunge on Whitehill’s Gareth Thom was deemed a red-card offence by referee Jordon Stokoe.
It was a contentious decision and perhaps a booking would have proved suffice, but Stirling now faced an uphill struggle.
Ryan Marshall brought out a tremendous save from Danny Noon’s net-bound effort from just a couple of yards out as the home side looked to make their numerical advantage stick before the interval.
The students continued to carry a threat in the second half as Creag Robertson’s header clipped the base of Young’s post before Steven Manson’s effort at the other end was no concern for Marshall. Kidd went close again for Whitehill as the match wore on before Stirling’s fate was sealed five minutes from time when Calum Burns was shown a second yellow for an apparent infringement off the ball.
However, Jack Nixon scuppered a great opportunity to nick an unlikely point in the closing stages when he headed wide from Millar’s inviting cross.
Lawson spoke of Stirling’s first dismissal saying: “He went for the ball but I can see why he’s (the referee) given it. There was hardly a bad tackle in the game though and he booked about eight or nine players – it wasn’t a dirty game. They are a good side and have got some really good players so it’s a great three points for us as it keeps unbeaten this year so far.”
Whitehill Welfare: Young, Hall, Thom, Dodds, McGlashan, Manson (Martin 69), A Kidd, McIntosh (Sproule 77), Noon, McLaughlin. Subs: Shearer, W Kidd.
Stirling University: Marshall, Burns, Sutherland, Robertson, Nixon, Geddes (Sludden 66), Millar, Atkins, Jones, McWhirter (McKee 76), Mitchell-Williams (Donaghue-Kelly 56). Subs: Cliff, Hughes.