Kelty Hearts 2-2 Dalbeattie Star
New Central Park, Kelty
Kelty learned the hard way that they will not have things their own way in the Lowland League, having to come from behind to grab a point in their opening day fixture. Despite a strong performance against Dalbeattie, and taking an early lead, the newly promoted Fifers had to rely on a superb free-kick from Scott-Taylor MacKenzie to earn the draw.
Kelty started the day by running the East of Scotland Championship pennant up the flag pole, as well as opening their newly build seated stand. The starting line up contained two of the summer signings, centre half Ciaren Chalmers and striker Mathew Gay both making their competitive debuts. In the absence of Shaun O'Neil, striker Errol Douglas once again filled in as an emergency defender in front of Scott Christie, with MacKenzie at left back and Elliot Ford on the right. Skipper Sean Greig is still recovering from injury, which gave Ian Nimmo the chance in the centre of midfield alongside Stephen Husband, Brian Ritchie and Ross Philp, with Scott Dalziel wearing the armband up top.
With formalities out of the way, Kelty were quickly on the attack, Dalziel creating the first chance in the opening seconds. Star, however, had a solid look about them and it was clear from the opening minutes that they were not going to be a pushover. They created a few chances of their own, working the ball well in the wide positions. But Kelty soon settled into their passing game, beginning to look comfortable with MacKenzie and Ford pushing forward and winning a couple of dangerous looking corners. The breakthrough came on twenty minutes, when Philp wriggled into the box surrounded by defenders, the ball broke to Dalziel who turned quickly and stood up a tempting looking cross for Gay to nod home from six yards. The striker has looked lively in pre-season, and has clearly settled quickly, looking comfortable on the ball and was always prepared to run at the Star defence.
The goal definitely helped settle any opening day jitters the home side might have had, and the were starting to take control of the game. Star carried a threat when the were in possession, and they certainly had the look of a competent side, but Kelty had their tails up and a second goal looked a certainty. Husband couldn't make the most of a free-kick in prime position, Gay found himself with bags of space wide on the left but had no support, and keeper Wilson had to touch a Philp shot onto the bar. But they couldn't find goal number two, and were made to pay on the stroke of half-time, when a powerful run from Todd caught Kelty on the back foot. Todd played it out to O'Sullivan on the left and when the low cross came in, Brotherstone was perfectly placed to tap the equaliser past Christie.
The goal gave Dalbeattie a lift, and they looked a different proposition in the second half, winning all the challenges and picking up all the loose balls. Kelty were still knocking the ball around, but the passes weren't finding their targets the same and Star were making interceptions and forcing mistakes. A change was needed and on the hour, gaffer Tam Courts withdrew Dalziel, introducing Murray Carstairs into the centre of defence, and returning Douglas to his preferred striker role. But it took Kelty a few minutes to adapt to the change, and the visitors took full advantage, forcing a free-kick 30 yards out. Sloan stepped up and with his right foot, curled the dead-ball round the wall into the top corner, giving Christie no chance. It was a harsh reminder to Kelty that the opposition at this level is a step up from last season, and they will be punished for not taking the chances that come their way.
Kelty's response was swift though, sending on last season's top scorer Stuart Cargill for Gay. The busy striker gave the visitors something else to think about, and when he was hauled down on the edge of the box, MacKenzie pulled out a special free-kick of his own to bring his side level.
Kelty sent on another of their new signings Willis Hare in search of the winner, but nearly conceded again, Christie having to be at his best to save a low shot to keep the scores level. As they game drew to a close, Dalbeattie had the look of a side that were happy with the point, but Kelty were still pushing for all three. Hare, Husband and Cargill all created chances, but Wilson in the Star goal was standing firm and in the end both sides had to be happy with the draw.
On their run to the EoS title last season, Kelty were used to bossing their opponents and looked capable of scoring at will. This game was an early sign that opportunities will be harder to come at this level, and they will need to be more clinical in front of goal. The Fifers are certainly capable of causing problems for most sides, and showed spirit to get back into the game after going behind. But Dalbeattie's organisation and resilience was proof that the sides in the Lowland League will be a tougher nut to crack. Although Kelty had the better of the first half, the second 45 was a much more even affair, and on balance a draw was a fair result.
Next up for Kelty is an away trip to Midlothian to play Whitehill Welfare on Tuesday evening.
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