Kelty Hearts 2 - 0 East Stirlingshire
New Central Park, Kelty
Man of the match: Ian Nimmo
Kelty overcame their toughest Lowland League challenge to date, with a confident win over one of the pre-season favourites at New Central Park. A goal in each half, plus a third consecutive clean sheet, was enough to dispose of Shire, and lift the Fifers up into third spot in the table.
On the injury front, there was good news for manager Tam Courts as club captain Shaun Grieg made his first appearance of the season, recovering from an ankle injury that's kept him out of action since May. Bad news too though, with Errol Douglas missing from the back four having tweaked a hamstring in the midweek cup win over Edinburgh Utd. Douglas has adapted quickly to his new center-half role, and everybody will be keeping their fingers crossed that he's not out for too long.
Kelty were keen to make their mark early in the game, and nearly got off to the perfect start when the ball broke to Stephen Husband on the edge of the box. The midfielder couldn't get his shot on target, but it was a signal that Kelty were clearly in the mood. They only had to wait until the seventh minute to get the lead, Stuart Cargill flying down the left and firing in the cross for Matty Gay to knock home his fifth goal in a week.
Things got worse for Shire just a minute later, when Kris Faulds was subbed off to be replaced by David McGauchie. Kelty were good value for the lead, even at such an early stage, and they were threatening to add to it every time they got on the ball. Elliot Ford was having plenty of joy on the right, linking up well with Husband and Brian Ritchie. Shire were competing well enough in midfield, but couldn't create anything to trouble Scott Christie in the Kelty goal. The home side really should have doubled their lead on the half hour, Ritchie outjumping everyone, but his header slipped narrowly past the post.
The game was being played in the middle of the park, with clear cut chances few & far between. Although Shire started to gain a bit more of a foothold as the half wore on, they still could not produce anything more than a half-chance, and Kelty held onto their narrow lead at the break.
After the break, it was more of the same with both sides having to duke it out in the middle of the park. Shire were giving a decent go, but Kelty always looked like they had a bit more and the longer the game went on, the more Ian Nimmo & Greig started to take control of the midfield. Goal scorer Gay was replaced by Scott Dalziel, and the chances started to come thick and fast for Kelty. Cargill beat the offside trap and took it round the keeper, but ran it a little too wide and the chance was gone. Dalziel was next to have a go, hitting the target with a powerful header, but keeper Barclay did just enough to stop it on the line. Barclay was a hero again a minute later, flying across his goal to touch a Carstairs header onto the post as the hosts piled on the pressure.
Kelty finally killed the visitors off five minutes from time, after Cargill was dragged down on the righthand angle of the box. Conrad Courts fooled everybody with a low driven free-kick, and Cargill got enough of a touch to deflect it into the net for his twelfth goal of the season.
Shire almost pulled one back in the dying moments, Brisbane with the effort, but Christie took it comfortably. The Kelty defence had looked a little shaky early on in the season, but Carstairs & Chalmers didn't put a foot wrong all day and with their third consecutive clean sheet, the Fifers now have a much more solid look about them.
Kelty manager Courts has said in the past that the felt his newly promoted side could be in the mix at the business end of the season. With this win they now sit in third place, just 3 points off the lead, are beginning to show the form that won three titles in four seasons. Courts' testimonial dinner was held on Saturday evening after the game and with this performance under his belt, the gaffer would have enjoyed his meal in the knowledge that his side are starting to look at home at this level.
Kelty now face a run of three away games, with back-to-back cup ties at Lochmaben and Dalbeattie before the trip to East Kilbride for potentially their trickiest league game of the season.
Match photo gallery HERE