Spartans off to SPFL after historic Play-Off Final win

Posted on Monday, May 22nd, 2023

History was made on Saturday as Blair Henderson’s first half penalty saw Lowland League champions Spartans defeat Albion Rovers in the Pyramid Play-Off Final to seal their spot in SPFL 2 next season.

The teams reconvened seven days after they were tied at 1-1 after a tense first leg at Ainslie Park in front of a bumper crowd of over 2,000.

With the Rovers Reigart Stadium restrictions in place, there was an almighty midweek scramble for the golden tickets, with one wondering if Willy Wonka himself would have to administer to allow those wishing to attend from North Edinburgh to get their hands on one.

But for those that did, and they were there in significant numbers within the 1,200 capacity crowd, it was a historic moment for the three times Lowland League champions who traded places with Sandy Clark’s side come 4.45pm.

The game kicked off in similar fashion to that a week previous with a nervous edge to proceedings with both teams naturally seeking to win but both keen to ensure it wasn’t a mistake that let their opponents steal the spoils.

It was an error of judgement from Rovers man Kyle Fleming that invariably ended Rovers 120 stay in League football when he caught Jordan Tapping inside the home penalty box leaving referee Matthew MacDermid with no doubt that a shot from 12 yards was the only outcome. 

Blair Henderson stepped up and with an air of calmness personified, he sent Rovers keeper Jack Leighfield the wrong way to stroke the ball in to the net much to the delight of the Spartans Ultras behind the opposite goal and those in red and white in the stand.

Rovers rallied however they couldn’t topple Tapping who continued to be a colossal player in the heart of the Spartans defence, mopping up the pressure rather than sweat from his brow.

There was a break in play midway through the half as Mikey Allan and his marker both crashed to the ground after an aerial challenge. Both resumed their positions after treatment.

Spartans pressed for a second and Cammy Russell came close as he caused chaos in the box, teasing for a challenge to be put in and his cross whizzed along the face of the goal but sadly no takers to tap home.

Mikey Allan had to be in top form to put in a timely tackle to send an effort behind for corner that was subsequently collected by Blair Carswell.

HT: Albion Rovers 0-1 The Spartans

There were no changes at the break as the teams returned to the pitch for one of the most important 45 minutes of football for both sides.

A strong piece of attacking play by Rhys Armstrong saw the playmaker have his first effort blocked, before his rebounded attempt was gathered by the Rovers goalie.

Armstrong was to offer neat feat and trickery shortly after and when he made progress to the byeline he sent the ball back in field to Blair Henderson who sent his shot, uncharacteristically, over the bar.

Midway through the half, Harvey Swann replaced Mikey Allan who had almost literally run himself into the ground, mustering enough enjoy to get over the sideline to make the substitution take place.

Blair Carswell’s afternoon had been a quiet one in relative terms however The Cat had to pull out all stops with a tremendous flying save to push an effort, travelling at speed, behind for a corner kick, drawing applause from both open parts of the ground.  

The hosts had a penalty appeal of their own, more in hope than expectation to be fair, as Bevan went down in instalments under a challenge inside the Spartans box.  The outcome, unsurprisingly, saw play rage on regardless.

With just under a quarter of an hour left on the clock, Rovers were down to 10 men.  Blair Malcolm saw a straight red after his boot appeared to make contact with Rhys Armstrong’s head as the Spartans man was on the turf.  After some deliberation between officials, the home skipper headed to the sheds for an early shower.

Spartans soaked up whatever pressure was left in the Rovers tank and with the sands of time ticking down, Bradley Whyte went on a late run up the park as he looked to put the icing on the promotion cake, only to see his shot saved.

With four added minutes – which seemed like an eternity in the visiting dug-out – the final whistle sounded.  Cue scenes, both of utter joy and sheer deflation in equal measure.  The Spartans, in true Roy of the Rovers style, had reached the dizzy heights of the ‘big leagues’. 

In doing so, Douglas Samuel’s side become the fifth team to win promotion through the pyramid play-offs, following Edinburgh City, Cove Rangers, Kelty Hearts and Bonnyrigg Rose.

FT: Albion Rovers 0-1 The Spartans

Spartans: Carswell, Allan (Swann 72), Waugh, Tapping, Watson, Dishington, Whyte, Jones (Herd 80), Russell, Armstrong (Morrison 78), Henderson.

Subs not used: Pinker, McFarland, Brown, Woods, A Brown, Meek.

Next Fixture

Date: Saturday 27th April
Opponent: Peterhead
Venue:Ainslie Park
Competition: SPFL 2
Kick off: 3.00pm

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