Henderson: Focus now on finishing season with South Challenge silverware

Posted on Friday, May 26th, 2023

Cool and calm in Coatbridge may not be a movie title set to hit the big screens any time in the near future, but for Blair Henderson, it describes the way the talismanic striker executed the winner from twelve yards that secured The Spartans a place in SPFL2 and create a special piece of club history.

It was Blair Henderson’s 28th goal of the season from 46 appearances and arguably one of the biggest goals of his career.

The 28 year old said of his promotion sealing spot-kick strike, “I’d have to look back, but I think it’s got to be the biggest, if not the most important, yeah.  It was a nice way to finish off an incredible journey this season.  I’d scored a few goals during the play-offs and as I’ve said before, that’s why I came here – and that’s what I came for.

“And I’m just glad that I could repay the faith that the Gaffer shown in me, bringing me here to do just that and that’s what I did.”

Having scored the crucial injury time winner at home against Brechin, another goal in the return at Glebe Park along with forcing the equaliser against Albion Rovers in the first leg, just how much pressure did Henderson feel on his shoulders as he went face to face with Jack Leighfield?

“I think it helped a fair bit by the penalty coming early on in the game.  I think if it was 15 minutes before the end as opposed to 15 minutes in, it might have been different, but I didn’t really feel the nerves at that time.  I was more nervous after I miss the chance in the second half near the end in case it was me that messed it up. But the boys dug in at the end, defended well and we got there. “

After a scramble for tickets for the fixture vastly reduced capacity Reigart Stadium, there was a cacophony of noise from the travelling Spartan Army support inside the 1,200 sell-out crowd when the final whistle sounded. 

For Henderson, it was an almost perverse mix of relief and joy.  “It was a bit strange for me to be honest.  The first five minutes or so after the final whistle went was more relief than the joy or excitement of winning it, simply because the amount of the pressure that’s been on us over the last four weeks has been crazy and I think a lot of the boys felt it.  It was mentally as well as physically challenging and probably the most pressure we’ve collectively been under as players in our careers so far.

“After that subsided though, it was sheer joy and excitement for sure having completed what we set out to do.”

The centre forward is of course no stranger to the SPFL having plied his trade at Ainslie Park during his spell at Edinburgh City.

Henderson netted 58 goals in just 91 appearances and his opening season saw his winning the SPFL League 2 player of the season and Tartan Boot awards. 

It was the ambition of the club to reach the SFPL 2 that sealed Henderson’s move in June 2021 and he shared his thoughts on what

“I said to the boys after the first game against Albion Rovers that what they’d played in was a League 2 game both in terms of the quality and the way the game was played out. 

“There were a lot of long balls, a bit of a dog fight and plenty of tackling, largely within the middle of the pitch with not a huge amount of attacking football being played.  And that is a bit of a snapshot of what lies ahead. 

“Yeah, there are clubs in that league who can get the ball down and play on the ground but to be honest, I think there’s perhaps more football played in the Lowland League. Whether that’s because some of the teams aren’t at the same standard as others, there’s a bigger gap between those at the top and the bottom than there is in League 2.

“But I think that was a League 2 game of football and I’ve said to the lads that this is what we’ll need to get used to.  In terms of the expectations, I think you’d need to speak to the Chairman and Gaffer about that, in terms of players that we’ll bring in and then we’ll take it from there.

“It’s a difficult league to play in, there’s a lot of teams who go into it thinking they’ll do well and get to the play-offs and others who go into the season probably thinking they could down due to the pyramid being in place.  But hopefully that won’t be us and we can kick on and do well next season.”

Switching attentions to this Sunday’s South Challenge Cup Final, Henderson knows that the team will have to bring their ‘a-game’ to Broadwood if they want to add to the three previous successes in this, the 15th year of the tournament.

“I recall the Gaffer mentioning during the previous rounds his desire to win this trophy.  It’s been an elusive capture for him over the years and the players are desperate to win it too.  It’s also one of the biggest cups we play in that we can actually win, with 163 teams entering this year.

Obviously we are in the Scottish Cup but realistically, we’re not going to win that.  I think it would be a disappointing way to sign off the season if we didn’t do it on Sunday but we know Drumchapel will be up for it and are a good side who reach the final on merit too. 

“They of course play in the West of Scotland League so we don’t know much about them, but they’ve got some quality players in their squad, so we’ll need to be fully focussed in order to get the win.”

The South Challenge Cup Final takes place on Sunday 28th May at 2.00pm.  Tickets can be purchased in advance via Fanbase at https://app.fanbaseclub.com/Fan/Tickets/SelectType?fixtureId=2811 priced at £10 Adults, £5 Adults and Under 16s can go for free.

Next Fixture

Date: Saturday 13th April
Opponent: Stranraer FC
Venue:Ainslie Park
Competition: SPFL 2
Kick off: 3.00pm

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