Kelty Hearts 0-3 East Kilbride
New Central Park, Kelty
Newly crowned Champions East Kilbride showed Kelty exactly the level they will need to reach if they want to claim next seasons Lowland League title. Kelty had already secured third place after an impressive debut season, but it’s no secret that the Fifers have their eyes on the top spot and more in the years ahead. They are not there yet though, and a slick controlled performance from this seasons champs showed there is still work to be done for Barry Ferguson’s side.
Kelty started well enough, taking the game to the visitors in the opening few minutes, McKirdy, Dodd & McBride linking up well on the left hand side and the hosts were enjoying plenty of possession. But just as Kelty looked like getting the better of the champions, they were undone by an incisive passing move down the right in the 23rd minute. EK won a free-kick which they took quickly, leaving Kelty chasing shadows and when Scott Stevenson cut in from the right and squared it, Cameron Russell was there applying the finish from 20 yards that gave Christie no chance.
Five minutes later and the visitors had doubled their lead, once again a quick passing move down the right side doing the damage and Craig Malcolm this time tucking the ball low past Christie from close range. Despite all their early possession, Kelty found themselves two down with only half an hour on the clock and the ease with which EK were able to cut their hosts open suggested it was only going to get worse.
The visitors looked pretty solid at the back too. Stuart Cargill got a header on target from the six yard line and Errol Douglas found space at the back post from a half-cleared free-kick, but William Muir saved comfortably on both occasions to keep the 2-nil lead at half-time.
Craig Malcolm got his second five minutes after the break with a cool finish, the Kelty defence carved open once again. Russell should have had another just a couple of minutes later, but Christie was off his line quickly to block the shot.
The pace of the game dropped right off in the second half, hardly surprising in the warm Easter sunshine. Kilbie had already done enough and were no doubt conserving their energy with a tough play-off schedule ahead of them.
They game was gone and Kelty knew it, so Ferguson took the chance to give some of his younger players a run out. Cargill and skipper Shaun Greig, were withdrawn giving Cameron Lumsden and Scotland international Owen Andrew the last half hour. Kier MacAulay replaced McKirdy five minutes later. Sean Winter made a cameo appearance for the visitors, much to the delight of the travelling fans and hit a free-kick that forced a top drawer save from Christie, but by that time the game had a summer holiday feel about it.
Substitute Owen Andrew showed a couple of wee flashes here & there. He had his heels clipped by Reid and the two squared up, but even that was a bit half-hearted and neither of them could really be bothered getting their handbags out. In truth Kelty never really looked like troubling EK and they had to wait until the 89th minute for their best effort of the half, Archie Campbell going on a penetrating run but the angle was a bit too tight and Muir picked the ball from under his crossbar to keep his clean sheet.
So a bit of a disappointing finish to a very good season for Kelty. The Fifers may not have quite hit the heights that they’ve become used to, but there’s no doubt they would have taken third at the start of the season and there’s no shame in finishing behind East Kilbride and BSC Glasgow - both very handy sides. The effect of losing a manager midway through the season and the resulting disruption to what had previously been a very settled squad has definitely taken its toll. The good news is that much of the transition work has already been done and the side should come back from the summer break in good shape for next season.
As for East Kilbride, they can now turn their attention to the two legged play-off against Highland League Champions Cove Rangers on the first step of the journey that they hope will end in promotion to League Two.
Supporters Man of the Match: Scott Christie would have woken up on Saturday morning knowing he was in for a busy afternoon. Despite having to pick the ball out of his net three times, the Kelty number 1 had a fine game, his save from Winter’s free-kick in particular, as good as any you’ll see this weekend.
see all the match photos HERE