Kelty Hearts 2-0 University of Stirling
Kelty stretched their lead at the top of the Lowland League with a 2-nil win over a difficult University of Stirling side at New Central Park. First half goals from Nathan Austin and Ryan Shanley gave the Fifers the victory, and with the Bonnyrigg v BSC game called off, open up a 7-point gap to ensure that Barry Ferguson’s side will celebrate Christmas in top spot.
Ferguson went with the same starting eleven for the third game in a row: Darren Jamieson in goal, a back four of Jamie Stevenson, Paddy Boyle, Scott Hooper and Dougie Hill. Skipper Michael Tidser, Thomas Reilly, Kallum Higginbotham, Dylan Easton and Ryan Shanley in midfield with Nathan Austin up top.
In the away dug-out, manager Chris Geddes went with a like-for-like 4-5-1 formation of: Ben Fry in goal, Mathew Burrows, Alex Webb, Ben Quigley and Marcus Lavery at the back. Captain Craig Brown, Conor Doan, Callum Downie, Jason Jarvis and Louis Kennedy in the midfield with Jamie Penker as the lone striker.
Dougie Hill thought he’d got Kelty off to the perfect start in the first couple of minutes with a bullet header from Dylan Easton’s corner, which hit the crossbar and was cleared by Burrows. A few of the Kelty players appealed that the ball had crossed the line before it was cleared and it looked like they had a strong case, but ref Barry Dickson didn’t want to know. There was an early chance for Higginbotham too, controlling the ball as it dropped and rifling a powerful effort goalward, but Fry got his fingertips to it and flicked it over the top for a corner.
There was plenty of early possession for Kelty, Boyle and Easton linking up well on the left and Stevenson doing the same with Shanley on the right. Higgy was looking hungry too, snapping into tackles, while Austin thought he’d opened the scoring after beating the keeper on the right-hand edge of the box, only to see his effort hit the base of the post.
It wasn’t all Kelty though, Uni having survived the early scares and starting to play a bit themselves. Kennedy in particular carried a threat down the left wing and making it to the bye-line on a couple of occasions, the wee man was keeping Boyle on his toes. In the Kelty goal, DJ was called into action to deal with a couple of dangerous looking crosses, which he did comfortably.
It was two goals in quick succession that turned the game Kelty’s way around the half hour point. The first came from a Boyle throw that was cleared only as far as Tidser. The skipper drilled a low shot which Fry blocked but couldn’t hold, and with the ball loose in the 6-yard box, Fash reacted quickest and he doesn’t miss from that sort of range.
The second came just a few minutes later, Easton’s corner played in low for Hooper, whose shot was heading for the bottom corner. Fry had it covered, but spilled it again and this time it was Shanley who reacted first, tapping home from close range to double the lead, and that’s how it stayed at the break.
After the interval, it was Uni who started better and there was a bit of a let-off for Kelty right at the start of the half, the ball over the top catching the defence square and falling perfectly for Penker, but with just the keeper to beat, he fired his first time shot right at DJ, who clutched it into his midriff.
Kelty had chances to extend the lead, Fash with the best of them, hitting the post from Easton’s free kick. Easton then earned Kelty a penalty, his tricky footwork drawing Webb into a lunge and Dickson had no hesitation awarding the spot kick. Higginbotham scored twice from the spot last week, but despite hitting it with plenty of power, it was at the right height for Fry, who made a good save.
Uni have been a tough side for Kelty in the past, and they certainly didn’t look in any mood to give the league leaders an easy time of it as the half wore on. Despite the two-goal cushion, the game still wasn’t out of reach for Uni by any stretch and Kelty had to work hard to keep the visitors at bay.
A goal at this stage would have set up a nervy finish and Kieran Hall had a great chance with clock ticking down, Jarvis setting up the substitute, who turned quickly on the edge of the box and tried find the top corner but just couldn’t get enough curl on his shot.
Kelty held on to take the win though, with another shutout to their name. Ferguson’s side have looked pretty solid at the back this season, with only eight goals conceded in all competitions. And three of them came against Premier League opposition. That brings the total to ten clean sheets from sixteen matches so far this season. Decent stats by any standard, but all the more impressive considering both keepers and four of the six defenders in the first team squad only joined the club during the off-season.
So with that win, and their closest challengers out of action, Kelty now sit on top of the Lowland League table, with 36 points from 13 games. East Kilbride and Bonnyrigg are both 7 points behind on 29, with BSC on 27 and East Stirlingshire on 26 and all four with a game in hand. Gala’s win at Bo’ness drops Uni down a place to 7th spot with 19 points from 14 games.
As we head into the festive fixtures, Kelty have a break from League business and can start dreaming of Hampden, as they host Jeanfield Swifts in the 1st round of the Scottish Cup on Boxing Day. For Stirling, it’s a chance to bounce back in the University derby against Edinburgh Uni at Forthbank.
Man of the Match: In a game where the defensive contribution was just as valuable in securing the points as the attackers, there wasn’t much to chose between the two centre halves, but it was Scott Hooper who got the vote. With a run of sound defensive displays, Hoops now appears to have made the starting spot alongside Dougie Hill his own.
See the whole match gallery HERE