Spartans make Kilmarnock work for Betfred Cup win
Spartans rounded off a spirited Betfred Cup campaign with a 3-0 defeat against a strong Kilmarnock outfit.
Second-half goals from Lee Erwin and a brace from substitute Mikael Ndjoli proved decisive although the Premiership side, who moved to the summit of Group H on seven points, were given a decent test by the Lowland League champions.
The Capital club, meanwhile, can look back on a successful ten days which saw them take points off both Dumbarton and St Mirren. They will now turn their attentions to this weekend’s league opener against Stirling University.
Hibs head coach Neil Lennon and his assistant Garry Parker were both in attendance at a packed-out Ainslie Park.
With Dougie Samuel still recovering from a minor heart attack, first-team coach Derek Riddel rang the changes for the club’s final group match with only Alan Brown, Blair Tolmie, Jamie Dishington and Craig Stevenson retaining their place from Saturday’s narrow loss to Queen’s Park at Hampden.
There was also a first start in the competition for goalkeeper Scott Costello between the sticks.
The Spartans goal was under siege from the first whistle with Kris Boyd heading the ball into the net as early as the second minute from an Iain Wilson cross. However, the former Scotland striker was adjudged to have pushed defender Blair Tolmie in the build-up.
Wilson, Lee Erwin and Jordan Jones continued to pepper Spartans’ goal but to no avail.
As expected, the Killie midfield were dominating possession in the early stages but were more than matched by their opponents for endeavour.
David Greenhill, Willie Bremner and Dishington were working tirelessly in the Spartans engine room as the Capital side finally began to assert some pressure of their own in the visitors’ half.
Boyd was again denied by an instinctive stop from Costello right on the stroke of half-time to keep the tie goalless at the break.
The former Scotland striker really should have broken the deadlock just 60 seconds after the restart. Ryan McKenzie’s delivery from a corner from the right was just the service the 34-year-old craves, but he bulleted his header over the crossbar from eight yards.
Erwin was next to try his luck but pulled his effort wide of Costello’s left-hand post.
It was really becoming backs-to-the-wall stuff for the home side, Boyd again denied by a brilliant one-handed stop from Costello.
Former City midfielder Ian McFarland replaced Stevens on the hour in a bid to break up wave after wave attacks on the Spartans goal.
However, Killie’s patience finally paid off in the 63rd minute which brought a huge sigh of relief from the 400-plus travelling support.
Wilson’s delivery into the box fell favourably for the threatening Erwin and the No.19 had time to bury his shot across Costello and into the far bottom corner.
Boyd had the ball in the net for a second time with a well-placed finish but was this time denied by the assistant referee’s flag on the far side.
Steve Clarke’s men finally doubled their advantage when Ndjoli – who had only been on the park a matter of minutes – swept in Wilson’s cross.
Dishington’s effort from 25 yards flew wide of Jamie MacDonald’s goal before Ndjoli extended Killie’s lead right at the death.
Spartans coach Riddel only had praise for his team. He said: “It was a brilliant experience for the guys coming up against a top-class side.
“That’s the best team we’ve played in the group.
“It’s all about the experience of getting to play against players they normally wouldn’t play against and I think they enjoyed that tonight despite being on the backfoot for most of the game.
“They didn’t get their first goal until the 63rd minute and that’s really good against a full-time Premiership outfit.”
Spartans: Costello, Brown, Cennerazzo, Tolmie (Corbett 63), Nixon, Greenhill, Dishington, Stevens (McFarland 60), Girdwood, Bremner (MacDonald 70), Stevenson. Subs: Carswell, Maxwell, Smith, Atkinson.
Kilmarnock: MacDonald, Broadfoot, Power, McKenzie (Thomas 73), K Boyd, Jones (Ndjoli 77), S Boyd, Waters, Erwin, Wilson, Millen. Subs: Mackay, O’Donnell, Dicker, Kiltie, Burke.
Referee: Mike Roncone