Kelty Hearts 1-1 – Elgin City
SPFL League 2
New Central Park, Kelty
Kelty needed a stoppage time goal from stand-in skipper Kallum Higginbotham to rescue a point against a battling Elgin City side at New Central Park. The visitors had taken the lead through Archie MacPhee’s first half penalty and looked like they would hold on for the win. But Higgy struck in the dying seconds of the match to preserve his side’s unbeaten start to the season and keep them top of the table.
Injuries are still affecting Kevin Thomson’s team selection and Kelty lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with keeper Darren Jamieson behind a back four of Robbie McNab at left back, Scott Hopper on the right Dougie Hill & Jordan Forster in the middle. Andrew Black started in midfield alongside Jamie Barjonas and Ross Philp, with Kallum Higginbotham, Joe Cardle and Alfredo Agyeman up top. In the away dugout, Gavin Price went with a more defensive 5-3-2 of Thomas McHale in goal, Tom Grivosti, Euan Spark, Darryl McHardy, Creag Little and Angus Mailer at the back. The midfield trio were Russell Dingwall, Rory MacEwan and Archie MacPhee, with Brian Cameron & Tony Dingwall up front.
Kelty got off to a decent enough start, dominating possession right from the off. Agyeman was first to test the keeper, Barjonas flicking the ball on from the edge of the box for the in-form striker, McHale saving with his feet to deny an opener with just 2 minutes on the watch.
Cardle was next to have a go, driving into the box and hitting an angled shot low across the keeper, who couldn’t hold it but did enough to push it away from danger. Just seconds later Barjonas burst forward as the defence opened up in front of him but although there was plenty of power in the shot, it was straight at McHale, who held onto it comfortably.
It was all Kelty in the opening 20 minutes, Jamieson in the Kelty goal not even having to get his gloves dirty. The closest Elgin came was when Dingwall cut in from the left and tried to square it into the 6-yard box, but DJ gathered easily at the front post. Just as it was starting to look like it was only a matter of time, things started to go wrong for the league leaders. Agyeman took a kick in the face in a nasty looking challenge from MacEwan over by the corner flag. The big striker looked in some distress and needed lengthy treatment before being helped off the park, replaced by Nathan Austin. From the resulting free-kick, the ball broke to Higginbotham at the back post but he could only fire over under pressure from Grivosti.
Austin came close himself just a few minutes after coming on, but couldn’t get enough on his header and although the loose ball broke for Hill, he was always going wide and he just couldn’t guide it in at the back post. The Fifers were made to pay for all those missed chances on the half-hour mark when Elgin won a free-kick wide on the right. The delivery to the edge of the box wasn’t great, but the referee spotted something (although nobody seems sure exactly what) and pointed to the spot. There were a few bemused looks on the park, including from the Elgin players, none of whom had appealed for anything. MacPhee didn’t need to be asked twice though, and confidently stuck the penalty away to give his side a surprise lead.
The goal gave Elgin a bit of confidence and they enjoyed their first decent spell of possession in the run up to half-time. Kelty on the other hand looked a bit stunned and it took them a few minutes to get back into their stride. Austin, Forster & Hill all went close in a good old fashioned goalmouth stramash, but none of them could force it over the line. With half-time in sight, the hosts had a solid looking penalty shout tuned down after Grivosti wrestled Cardle to the ground, but referee Lloyd Wilson seemed to be the person inside New Central Park who didn’t see anything. Cardle wasn’t happy with the decision and got into a bit of verbals with MacPhee before the half-time whistle came.
After the break, it was clear that City had just one gameplan and that was to defend that one goal lead at all costs. The visitors looked happy enough to surrender possession in the midfield in favour of defending their 18 yard box. Kelty gaffer Thomson shuffled the pack at half-time: Hopper going off, Philp dropping into the right-back slot and sub Cammy Russell going onto the right wing in an effort to unlock the City defence. With the injection of pace and a bit of tricky footwork, Russell was soon testing the visitors with three or four tempting deliveries into the danger area and the sub would be entitled to wonder why there was nobody in a maroon shirt there to get on the end of any of them.
On the other flank, Reis Peggie came in for Robbie McNab, as Kelty stepped up the effort to get level. Still the Elgin defence was holding firm – McHardy & Little dealing with everything that came into the box. McHale still looked a wee bit unconvincing between the sticks, and his kicking wasn’t doing his side any favours either – finding touch more often than he was finding a teammate, but his defence were giving him plenty in the way of protection.
With time running out and Kelty throwing everything at Elgin, Thomson reached for the kitchen sink in the form of Thomas O’Ware, the big centre-half turning centre forward as Kelty looked to get something in an aerial battle they’d been losing all half. It was another defender, Dougie Hill who came closest to picking the lock, but his downward header just wouldn’t fall for Forster and slid agonisingly past the post.
Kelty were huffing & puffing, but genuine clear-cut chances were few & far between. All the same, you can always tell when a side are hanging on when they start asking the officials for a time-check and when the answer was “sixty seconds plus” it was looking like Elgin’s rear-guard action had paid off. Enter Kallum Higginbotham. With the seconds ticking away, the ball fell to the skipper on the edge of the D, sat up perfectly form him, and he drilled it right-footed low into the bottom corner.
The celebration was as much relief as anything else. Kelty had passed up too many chances in the first half and been short of their best in the second, but they showed plenty of spirit and determination to ensure they took something from the game. Without being unkind to Elgin they probably would have taken a point before kick-off, but having led for so long, conceding so late would have felt like a kick in a delicate place. But they should be content enough having picked their first away point of the season. Next up for Kelty is a trip to Coatbridge to face Albion Rovers, whilst Elgin will play host to Annan Athletic.
Man of the Match: It had been a quiet afternoon for Kallum Higginbotham – right up until the moment he rescued a point for his side. With the frustration evident on the park and around the ground, Higgy was cool, composed and clinical at the crucial moment
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