Spartans boss believes stalemate between them and Kilby will prove vital
SPARTANS manager Dougie Samuel feels his side's 0-0 stalemate with rivals East Kilbride was a point gained in their pursuit of back-to-back titles, despite the Ainslie Park men passing up better goal-scoring opportunities.
The reigning champions welcomed second-placed Kilby to the Capital in the only Lowland League fixture of the weekend, with both teams looking to stretch clear of the chasing pack.
However, neither side could make the breakthrough they so desperately craved and had to settle with a point apiece.
Samuel admitted his over-riding feeling after the full-time whistle was one of satisfaction as Spartans maintained their slender one-point advantage at the top of the table.
“It was a really tight game of football, but I was pleased with our performance level today,” Samuel said.
“Both teams were very organised and knew there was a lot at stake. I felt the better chances fell our way, but it really was a game of few clear-cut opportunities and both teams probably felt they had spells when they were on top.
“There were more positives than negatives from our point of view. Some of our attacking play was very, very good and on the balance of play I thought we were the better side the first-half.
“The second half was a bit more even and the game opened up a bit more during the last 15 minutes.
“We obviously lost both games against East Kilbride last year and that’s us played them twice now and drew twice already this season, so it shows you there is very little between the teams.
“This group of players have a lot of character, though, and they don’t often get the credit they deserve sometimes.
“Everyone talks about how solid we are defensively and the number of clean sheets we’ve kept, but we can also play some quality football going forward.”
It was clear from the get-go that neither team were willing to give each other a sight at goal, with most of the action taking place in the centre of the park.
East Kilbride’s Matt McGinley was the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half.
Spartans carved out an opening after nine minutes with a neat, intricate passing move. Craig Stevenson drove forward at pace before slipping the ball into the feet of Willie Bremner, who turned inside and rifled a powerful low effort straight at McGinley.
A slip from Craig Howie almost allowed striker Jason Stevens through on goal, but the visiting defender recovered well to shepherd the big No.9 out to the touchline.
Kilby offered little in attack during the first 45 minutes. Their best effort of the half falling to Anton Brady, but his deflected shot was comfortably held by Blair Carswell.
Stevens, in for the absent Jack Smith, almost broke the deadlock on 43 minutes when he picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box, but could only blaze over from a promising position.
Spartans were on the front foot at the start of the second half, with Bremner and Greenhill linking up well on several occasions.
The latter sprayed a cross-field pass to Stevenson on the left before he angled a cross towards the in-rushing Jamie Dishington, but the winger’s header flew harmlessly wide of the target.
Both managers made alterations in a bid find a way through the opposing defence and the introduction of veteran frontman Jamie Longworth on the hour-mark sparked East Kilbride into life.
A crowd of 290 watched on as Graeme Holmes close-range shot was blocked into Longworth’s path, but the substitute was slow to react and his lacklustre effort was saved by Carswell.
The South Lanarkshire men launched a late attack through Longworth with three minutes remaining and he teed up Holmes, but the former Albion Rovers midfielder curled the ball inches over the crossbar.
With both teams receiving a bye into the William Hill Scottish Cup second round draw, it was somewhat ironic when they were later paired against each other. Another close match is surely in the offing.