EOS Side Level Late Against Leith

Posted on Sunday, September 1st, 2013

The saying: “The party’s not over until the fat lady sings” came in to my mind as I watched the closing minutes of the East of Scotland League game at Ainslie Park. There was no ‘fat lady’ out on the plush stadium pitch at this wonderful venue, only a squad of honest-to-goodness Spartans players and in a blistering finish to their game against Leith Athletic, the party spirit broke out among the home players when they scored two goals in two minutes to share the points in a 2-2 draw.

Frankly, I did not know where the goals came from as Spartans had toiled long and hard to even get shots on target in the time leading up to them snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat. David Stewart, in the No 6 jersey for Spartans, pounced in the 82nd minute to knock home a rebound after Leith goalie, Ian Gordon, it appeared, lost the ball in an aerial challenge. That was it, as they say! The ‘baw was burst’ as far as Leith Athletic were concerned, but, equally, Stewart’s goal caused the ‘balloon to go up’ on the Spartans touchlines. In the 80th minute, the home side had, eventually, managed to get the ball in the Leith net and it was Spartans’ No 10, Chris O’Day, who put it there. Prior to all that, it was Leith who looked to have the points ‘in the bag’ as they looked a much better organised team on the day, than Spartans. The game was played at a blistering pace, with lots of good passing moves from both sides and, equally, some really poor defending at either end. Taken as a whole, however, I really enjoyed the game and part of the reason for that was the venue itself – the best I have ever seen in my travels – and also the excellent treatment given to me by everyone at Ainslie Park. Printed teamsheets, correctly numbered, it could not get much better than that! And, a place to get a cup of coffee, something to eat and, hallelujah indeed, toilets and covered seating in the main stand. Add in a balcony overlooking the pitch and it was hard for me to realise I was in Edinburgh. Here are the names of the players who made my day so enjoyable at Ainslie Park:

Spartans FC – Murray Jackson, Michael Atai, Keith Boyes, Alex Brown, Connor Armstrong, Robbie Laird, Haydn Crane, Mattew Cunningham, Scott Clapperton, David Stewart, Ian Ballantyne, Reece Cochrane, Paul Roberts, Michael Gray, Chris O’Day, Craig McMillan.

Leith Athletic FC – Iain Gordon, Gary Black, Lewis Cairns, Peter Coaghan, Kenneth Hall, Mark Leslie, Steven Lynch, Robbie Mason, Daniel Simpson, Darren Smith, Lewis Tracey, Chris Wright, Jamie Newman, Shaun Miller, James Hainey.

A really good referee in John Weir who was helped throughout this very competitive game by two assistants.

The sun was out in patches and when covered by clouds, it was a wee bit chilly in the strong (at times) wind. It was nothing to me, as I have suffered all over Edinburgh in my life as a sports reporter, standing out in the open in pouring rain and howling winds, with no toilet facilities, etc, etc, etc. But the home of Spartans FC is totally civilised in every aspect.

So many good things to write about! Spartans No 10 showed up well in the opening stages and, ahem, Chris O’Day ‘flattered to deceive’ like so many of his team-mates when it came to getting shots on target. But the opening stages were full of movement – at express speed – I have to add. No-one, as far as I could see, ‘dwelt on the ball’! The tackling was good and it was also very fair. Of course, as is the way in football, many of those on the sidelines were quick to let the referee know when they thought he (John Weir) gave the wrong decision. But the match official was in total control of the game! Another good player in my eyes was Leith No 2, Chris Barrie, and I thought he had a very good game. His immediate opponent was the hard-working Spartans’ No 7, Ian Ballantyne, and it was Barrie who emerged the winner when they contested the ball. Haydn Crane, in the No 11 jersey, did well for Spartans up front, but as the game developed, Leith looked that wee bit more organised than the, at times, frantic, Spartans outfit. In an early scare for the visitors, Ian Gordon produced a poor clearance, but Spartans were unable to capitalise on the goalie’s mistake and the danger passed for Leith as No 4, Gary Black, stepped in to clear. Big Mark Leslie, looked cool, calm and collected in his role in the centre of the Leith defence, anyway. Mark was another of the many good players on the pitch. Well, at least, I thought so! Murray Jackson distinguished himself when he came off his line to block and hold a shot from the onrushing Leith No 11, Lewis Tracy, from the left. Good, good play by big Murray. Stewart and Michael Gray combined well in a good move by the home side, but the ball went behind for a goal-kick. As happened in so many Spartans raids on the Leith goal. Next, Keith Boyes (3), Ian Ballantyne (7) and O’Day (10) set up a good move, but they had to settle for a throw-in. At the other end, a very good raid on the Spartans goal involved No 10, Robbie Mason, but his shot at goal spun off a Spartans defender and in to the arms of Murray Jackson. Rip-roaring stuff, I have to add. When Spartans attacked, Gray and Crane combined well, but it all ended in disappointment and I noted down ‘what was that?!’ with regard to the attempt to score – with Iain Gordon off his line. It was’nt going to be ‘one of these day’s’ was it? Mason again for Leith, but his shot at goal was easily cleared by Jackson. Chris Wright, meanwhile, caused all sorts of problems for the home defence when he was on the ball (often). In one good move, Leith were caught offside. Play surged to the other end and I stared in disbelieve as Michael Gray – or all people – joined in the farcical shots at goal brigade in the Spartans colours. Big Michael’s shot at goal took the game to ‘new heights’ as it soared away up in to the heavens. Gray again, but this time he was denied by a very good block by Iain Gordon. The ball went behind for a corner to Spartans, and the delivery from the corner, taken by David Stewart, is not worth speaking about, unless you swear! So many good moves by both sides ended in disappointment, caused by poor final passes. Connor Amstrong (5) broke away from his central defensive role, to run at the Leith defence with the ball at his feet. ‘This looks promising’ I thought, but the move broke down – yet again.

Both sides appeared to me set on knocking the stuffing out of each other and play, indeed, raced from end to end. It was that type of game, thrilling to watch, but desperately in need of a goal. And that duly came along in the 40th minute. A good cross from the left appeared to be covered by Murray Jackson, but in a hefty aerial challenge the big goalie appeared to lose the ball and it went in to the back of the net to put Leith 1-0 in front. All-in-all, I thought Leith just deserved that wee break as they were the better side for most of the first half. It was still 1-0 at the break and the players et al, went in to ‘recharge their batteries’!

At the start of the second half, another mistake in the home defence almost gifted a goal to Leith. Chris Wright pounced on the loose ball but his shot was deflected in to the path of No 11, Lewis Tracey, and his shot was yet another instantly forgettable. And so the game went on, Chris O’Day at one end, firing a shot straight at Gordon, while Chris Wright was brought down on the edge of the 18yd box, slightly to the right of the Spartans goal. Free-kick! This time big Chris Barrie was on target for Leith, but Jackson stopped the shot going in to the net with a great diving save to punch the ball behind for a corner. Again, Barrie took the corner but his very good cross was allowed to run across the face of the Spartans goal. Where were the Leith attackers when they wanted them? And Spartans continued to let themselves down with poor final passes that ruined promising attacks on the Leith goal. Mark Leslie was outstanding for Leith when he halted a run from Michael Gray. Still only one goal in it, so no room for complacency, then? Gordon saved a shot from Ballantyne and then Leith scored a second goal! Ten minutes in to the second half, it was Chris Wright who put Leith in to what I thought a match-winning lead, when he sent a perfectly judged chip over the advancing Jackson and in to he empty net to make it 2-0. Haydn Crane answered for Spartans with a good run – that got him nowhere! Meanwhile, the referee turned a blind eye to some tackles at both ends of the pitch that looked like fouls. But the referee thought otherwise. He was better placed than anyone to judge. Spartans continued to fire shots wide of the Leith goal – and was that frustrating or what?

Spartans did not appear to have the ability to stick the ball in the back of the Leith net. Holding a 2-0 lead, Leith looked to be on their way to picking up all three points. At both ends, Gordon and Jackson both performed heroics in saving net-bound shots, Jackson more than Gordon I must add. There was nothing wrong with the attitude of the Spartans players, however. They worked so hard to get themselves back in to contention, but things just would not work out for the home side. Coach, Alex Cunningham, said: “We will just have to keep plugging away!” If the game had ended at 80mins, Leith would have won 2-0. But, in a great analogy of the saying: “The party’s not over, until the fat lady sings!” Spartans came back ‘from the dead’! Chris O’Day it was who applied the finishing touch in a move that was a total tribute to eager-beaver No 7, Ian Ballantyne. That was in the 80th minute and ‘all hell broke loose’ among the Spartans players and on their sidelines. Two minutes later, the ‘balloon went up’ and tonight’s fireworks to close the Festival had nothing on Ainslie Park when David Stewart scored the equaliser. I swear the very ground trembled as the Spartans contingent went more than slightly crazy. For the remainder of this game, it was Leith that had to defend their goal, well, most of the time, anyway. It was ‘bonkers time’ at Ainslie Park, and when the final whistle sounded. Even more delirium among the home players and coaches, etc. Leith Athletic must still be wondering just how did Spartans score not one, but two goals in the space of two minutes. At no time in the previous 80 mins did Spartans look capable of scoring even one goal, never mind two. So, I think Leith will be shocked at losing two valuable points, while Spartans celebrated as if they had won the league. And they might just do that!

*Thanks to everyone who made my visit to Ainslie Park so enjoyable. I have to add I enjoyed the game, but who would be a coach in a game like that? It must have been nerve-shredding!

Next Fixture

Date: 16/07/24
Opponent: Cove Rangers
Venue:Balmoral Stadium
Competition: Premier Sports Cup
Kick off: 7.45pm

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