Updated: May 9, 2021
Kelty Hearts 4-1 Brora Rangers
New Central Park
Kelty Hearts saw off Highland League Brora in convincing style to take a step closer to SPFL football. Kelty ran out well deserved winners over both legs and are now gearing up to face Brechin City for a place in League 2 next season. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, Greg Morrison gave the visitors a lifeline midway through the first half. But a hat-trick from Kelty hitman Nathan Austin put the Fifers on easy street, before Dylan Easton’s stoppage time strike put the icing on the cake.
Kelty gaffer Barry Ferguson named the same starting eleven that won the first leg on Tuesday night; Darren Jamieson in goal, with a back four of Jamie Stevenson, Paddy Boyle, Dougie Hill and Scott Hooper. Skipper Michael Tidser in midfield alongside Thomas Reilly with Easton wide left, Ross Philp on the right Kallum Higginbotham through the middle and Austin up top.
Brora gaffer Steven Mackay made two changes to the side that started at home, both on the right-hand side, with John Pickles coming in at right back and Alasdair Sutherland on the wing, Jordan Macrae and Tom Kelly dropping to the bench.
Kelty would have felt confident pre-match with the two-goal cushion, but actually looked a little nervy in the opening 20 minutes. Philp & Higginbotham were enjoying plenty of the ball in the early minutes but with Gillespie sitting deeper and protecting the back four, Brora always seemed to have the extra man, doubling up on the Kelty front men whenever they were in possession.
Wagenaar was first to test Jamieson in the Kelty goal, whipping a left-footed free-kick in, but DJ gathered easily. A quick glance at the big book of football cliches will tell you that the first goal is always important in these games. The visitors would have been delighted after 25 minutes then, the Highland League champions taking the lead after Nicolson broke up a Kelty attack and fed Wagenaar whose diagonal ball split the Kelty defence open for Morrison to fire home from the edge of the box.
The goal sparked Kelty into life though and they were level within a matter of minutes. Higginbotham won possession from a Brora throw deep in the Kelty half, and knocked it forward to Austin, who held off the challenge from Nicolson and slipped the ball low past Malin to restore the two-goal aggregate lead.
The equaliser seemed to give Kelty the jolt of confidence they needed, and the Lowland League champs finished the half strongly. Easton’s header setup Reilly but he couldn’t keep his volley down and it soared harmlessly over the bar. With the interval approaching, Kelty had penalty claim turned down after Austin and Nicolson collided on the edge of the box, but ref Euan Anderson didn’t want to know, and it stayed level at the break.
The game was bubbling up nicely as the second half got underway, Kelty searching for the killer second, while Brora were still managing to test Jamieson. The Brora back line was looking vulnerable to the quick ball forward though, and Austin thought he’d put his side ahead, once again taking advantage of some sluggish defending, but with the keeper beat, he could only watch his shot slip past the post.
Kelty did make it two on the hour mark though, Easton feeding Boyle, who fired a cross to the front post for Fash to get across his man and head past Malin into the far corner for his second of the game. Fash completed his hat-trick five minutes later when Higginbotham was pulled down in the D, curling his free-kick round the wall and into the top corner to finally kill the tie off.
Job done, Ferguson immediately withdrew the big striker, not wanting to take any chances with the Brechin double header now a reality. Cammy Russell replaced Austin and had a couple of decent chances of his own: one that just slid past the post and one that Pickles managed to pinch off his toe as he was about to pull the trigger.
It was left to the man who got the ball rolling on Tuesday night to hammer the final nail in Brora’s coffin, Dylan Easton with the sweet left-foot finish in stoppage time that left Malin wrong footed, and sent Kelty into the play-off final as Pyramid Champions. Ferguson’s side now have 10 days to get ready as they look to make history, with Brechin visiting New Central Park on Tuesday 18 May, before the return leg at Glebe Park on Sunday the 23rd.
Man of the Match: The holding midfield duo of Tidser and Reilly both had fine games, but the award could only go to one man. With yet another treble in Kelty colours, Nathan Austin showed why he is the most feared striker in the pyramid setup, scoring a right-footer, left-footer and a header for a perfect hat-trick.
See the full match gallery HERE