Updated: Jan 13, 2019
Kelty Hearts 2-2 University of Stirling
New Central Park, Kelty
Kelty had to claw back a two goal deficit to save a point as their title hopes took another dent at New Central Park. Stirling raced into an early lead thanks to Kieran Hall and Blair Lyons before Stuart Cargill and Murray Carstairs saved the day for the Fifers.
David Manderson started in goal in place of suspended Scott Christie, with the usual back four of Elliot Ford, Kier MacAulay, Errol Douglas and Murray Carstairs in front of him.
With a handful of the first team squad still recovering from flu and gaffer Barry Ferguson still tinkering with the formation, Scott Taylor MacKenzie started in the centre of a five-man midfield.
Up top, lone striker Stuart Cargill needed only one goal to equal the club's all time scoring record.
Kelty started quickly, and nearly took the lead after five minutes, Mutch combining with Ford who whipped in a cross that had keeper Kevin Walker flying to touch over bar, with Cargill and Ritchie sniffing around. A minute later Walker was in action again to parry Brian Ritchie's shot with Chris Dodd inches away from getting on the loose ball.
It could have been a very different afternoon had Kelty managed to convert either of those chances, but the match turned in the eight minute. Hall gathered a long ball from the keeper and pushed into the Kelty box. Carstairs slid in, and while he appeared to win the ball, ref Scott Millar had no hesitation in awarding Stirling the penalty. Hall took the spot-kick himself, low into the corner, sending Manderson the wrong way to give the visitors the lead.
The penalty decision was obviously still on their minds in the twentieth minute, when Lyons picked up the ball in the box, and rode a couple of half-hearted challenges before firing goalward. Although Manderson flapped at it, it looked like he'd done enough to keep it out, but the ref ruled it had crossed the line, and without VAR to argue, Uni had a 2 goal lead.
Kelty have been guilty of losing their heads when refereeing decisions don't go their way and it looked for a spell that history might repeat itself. Although they managed to regain some composure, they didn't show any real sign of getting back into it, the midfield in particular struggling to make any impact on the game. Their best chance of the half came when Cargill beat the off-side trap, as always, his control was instant but Burrows & Slattery did enough between them to block the shot and although he got a second bite at the cherry, the chance was gone.
Ferguson had to change something at the break because the game was already looking beyond Kelty. Greig and Husband replaced Mackenzie and Chalmers and Mutch moved into more central role to support Cargill. Even with the changes, they still struggled to get a foothold in the game. Stirling had a solid look about them, McGuire and Hunter breaking up everything in the middle and Walker in total control of his area. They carried a threat at the other end too, Lyons looking capable every time he got on the ball.
It was Ross Mutch who eventually turned the tide for Kelty, chasing down a long ball to set up Cargill and although Walker made the save, he looked uncomfortable for the first time all afternoon. It sparked a string on three corners in quick succession and Kelty enjoyed their first decent spell for almost an hour. It obviously gave the home side some belief and it wasn't long before they had dragged themselves back into the game. Mutch and Cargill exchanged passes and with the penalty box crowded, Cargill laid it back to Husband, whose shot from the edge of the D was too hot for Walker to hold. Mutch was quickest to react, but Walker blocked again, before it broke to Cargill who was the coolest man in Kelty and slid it home to give his side a lifeline.
It was goal number 162 in a Kelty shirt for the striker, equalling the 25 year old record of Tommy Condie, but more importantly, giving his side a lifeline in the game. He nearly took the record outright with the very next attack, his header from Husband's corner was on it's way into the top corner before Walker saved at full stretch. It only went as far as Murray Carstairs though, who slammed home the equaliser left-footed from the tightest of angles.
It was a scoreline that had looked unlikely just a few minutes earlier, and Kelty suddenly looked like a different team. With ten minutes to go, they were full of energy and looked more than capable of getting their noses in front . With the game in the balance, an edge was creeping into the tacking as both sides battled hard. Cargill and Hunter were booked for a bit of handbags as the game finally came to life. Both sides were searching for a winner, but it was Kelty who came closest after a powerful run from Husband, who fired a tempting looking cross that was just too high for Cargill and too long for Ritchie.
At the end of the day, a point each was probably the right result - Uni had looked safe for most of the afternoon, but when Kelty finally got going they definitely carried a threat. Two points dropped at home doesn't do Kelty's title challenge any favours though, and although they still sit third in the table, with both BSC and East Kilbride winning, they've now lost a little bit more ground to the leaders. There's a break from league business next week, with Camelon the visitors in the Football Nations Cup 4th round.
Full match gallery HERE