Musselburgh Athletic 2
Hill of Beath Hawthorn 4
REFEREE Ralph Gordon made himself as unpopular as Abanazar, the wicked wizard in Aladdin at the nearby Brunton Theatre, after failing to give a Hill of Beath player his marching orders early on then sending off three Musselburgh men.
In a match described as “bizarre” by Burgh boss Dave McGlynn, Gordon found himself the centre of attention as the Fifers leapfrogged Bonnyrigg and Camelon to take over top spot.
The controversy erupted after just seven minutes, when Paul Tansey was brought down by Michael Gemmell and the official pointed to the spot.
It was a clear scoring opportunity yet Gordon and one of his assistants couldn’t agree between them that Gemmell had been the culprit and he escaped without even a booking when a red card should have been the punishment.
Kris Renton made no mistake with the penalty but Musselburgh clearly felt Hill of Beath still having a full compliment of players was an injustice and their rage was compounded in the 21st minute.
As the ball broke to Stephen Bathgate afrer a scramble on the edge of the box, the striker was clearly held back by Harry McGregor.
This time the red card was out of Gordon’s pocket in a flash and Musselburgh were down to ten men, losing their lead to boot as Bathgate converted from the spot.
Despite moving Renton back to centre half, the home side still carried a threat, with Paul Tansey whistling one left-foot shot just wide then being unable to direct another effort on target with the goal gaping just before the break.
With Bonnyrigg boss Max Christie in the crowd, Musselburgh started the second-half well and were having their best spell of the game before they were reduced to nine men in the 69th minute. Bathgate got goalside of Renton in the box and once again made no mistake from the resultant penalty, which also earned the Musselburgh man a straight red card.
After substitute Callum Adamson had made it 3-1 shortly afterwards with a deflected shot, Chris King became the third Musselburgh player to get his marching orders as frustration earned him a second yellow card.
Adamson then added his second of the game as he steered home a shot from inside the box before Mattu King pulled one back late on following a mix up at the heart of the Hill of Beath defence. McGlynn chose his words carefully afterwards to avoid landing himself in hot water but it was only natural that he pinpointed the referee’s early decision as a pivotal moment in the game.
“It all came down to that,” he said. “If he’d made the right one, I am sure we would have gone on to win the game.
“I still thought we were probably on top with ten men, but it was always going to be tough after we also lost Kris, who I thought had been immense after going back to centre-half.
“They are a good side but scored with two penalties, a wicked deflection and we were down to eight men by the time the fourth one went in.”
The win took Hill of Beath, who finished runners-up to Bo’ness last season and play a game that is pleasing on the eye, two points clear of both Bonnyrigg and Camelon.
“It is always a hard game here, whether they’ve got all eleven players on the pitch or not,” said Haws boss Jock Finlayson.
“[The referee’s decision not to red card Gemmell] was a wee break, but we didn’t get many when we came here in the Scottish Cup earlier in the season and lost 2-1.
“I’m normally just worried about my team, but I thought their attitude, on and off the park, was bad. However, we are just happy to be top of the league. We scored four and could have got six or seven.”
Bonnyrigg have two games in hand on the leaders but the watching Christie will know the Fifers are genuine title contenders, especially if front duo Bathgate and Craig Smart can stay injury-free for the rest of the season.
“We’ve got a great bunch of boys and are happy with the way things are going,” added Finlayson. “We’re halfway through the season, have five matches away and five at home to come but it’s still going to be difficult (to land the title).”
Musselburgh Athletic: Keiron Renton, Gordon (Murray 56), Noble, Shand, McGregor, McCaul, Wilson (Russell 80), C King, Kris Renton, Mattu King, Tansey. Subs: Ramage, Adams.
Hill of Beath Hawthorn: Hall, Haddow, Seeley, Kelly (Adamson 60), Dair, Smart (Kay 85), Wright, Gemmell, Smith, Bathgate (Allum 89), Hepburn. Subs: Renton, Ford.
Referee: R Gordon.