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Mersh’s Mini Hop 2021 - 3 matches in 2 days

The 6th Scottish Ground Hop took place on the weekend of 01, 02 & 03 October, with fans from as far afield as Essex making the trip to Edinburgh, taking in no fewer than six matches over the three days. Since the first hop in 2015, fans have made their way north in big numbers to visit some of the lesser-known venues in the East of Scotland and Lowland League catchment areas. During Saturday’s fixture between Newtongrange and Tranent, the hoppers passed the remarkable milestone of 10,000 spectators are Scottish ground hop matches. The leagues have embraced the annual trips, enabling clubs to re-schedule kick-off times to allow travelling fans to maximise the number of games they can take in. To mark the occasion, I undertook a mini-hop of my own, taking in 2 of the official matches, as well as trip to my regular Saturday afternoon haunt at New Central Park.

Dalkeith Thistle 8-2 Tweedmouth Rangers

King’s Park, Dalkeith

When I saw that King’s Park was in this year’s ground hop list, I knew I would have to make the journey. I have family in the Dalkeith area, and as kids, we regularly used to visit in the school holidays, so I’ve spent a bit of time around here. King’s Park was also the host venue for the 2018 King Cup Final, when Kelty beat Preston Athletic on penalties to do the league & cup double, one of my fondest football memories.

Only 4 points and 4 league places separated these two sides heading into the game. Tweedmouth enjoyed a bright start to the game, creating the first couple of chances, Michael Robinson looking lively. It was Robinson that opened the scoring after just 5 minutes, his angled shot slipping past Shea Dowie and sneaking inside the far post to get the visitors off the the perfect start.

The opening half hour was fairly even, with chances at both ends, Ryan Weston seeing plenty of the ball but Mark Walters working hard to keep the home side at bay. It took Thistle until the 33rd minute to level the scoreline, Weston cutting in from the left and firing high into the net from close range to make it 1-1 each.

It didn’t stay level for long though, Robinson sprinting forward from midfield and slotting home his second of the match to give his side a 2-1 lead at the break.

The game turned on its head just seconds after the interval, when Robinson got his marching orders. Although I didn’t see the incident, the talk around the ground was that he’d got a straight red for swinging an elbow at an opponent. Whatever the reason, Tweedmouth we’re down to 10 men, with the whole of the second half still to go.

Things got a lot worse for the visitors just a few minutes later. Thistle won a corner on the left which was swung deep to the back post, where Callaghan tried and ambitious overhead kick, which didn’t come off, but landed perfectly for Darren McTernan who fired home to make it 2-2.

Thistle took the lead from the penalty spot on 57 minutes, Darren Leslie converting after a foul on the edge of the box. Weston made it 4 on the hour mark with the pick of the bunch, curling his shot inside the post from the angle of the box.

Callaghan got number 5 after another shot from Weston was tipped onto the cross bar, but dropped at the feet of the skipper, who nonchalantly tapped it into the net.

Rangers really should have pulled on back five minutes later, substitute Craig Bell dribbling through the Thistle defence and sitting the keeper on his backside, but with the goal gaping, he couldn’t get his shot away and the chance was gone.

It was one way traffic from then on, Thistle looking likely to score with every visit over the halfway line. Number 6 was an O.G., Dixon getting in the way of another Weston shot and deflecting it into his own net. Sub Danny McFadden made it 7-2 within a few minutes of coming on, and Burrows rounded off the scoring in the final minute to put the icing on the cake for Dalkeith.

Kelty Hearts 2-1 Annan Athletic

New Central Park, Kelty

A quick dash back to Fife in time for kick-off at New Central Park. Although not an ‘official’ groundhop game, this was a top of the table clash between the sides first and third in league 2, and there was no chance I was going to miss this one.

The first half hour was a bit of a cagey affair, both sides sizing each other up and neither taking too many risks. Kelty probably just edged it on possession and the chances started to come as the game wore on. Kelty had a couple of dangerous looking corners, with the Athletic defence looking a little uncomfortable with the ball played deep into the danger area. Connor Barron could have grabbed the lead from one of them, with the defence in disarray, but just couldn’t force it over the line.

It was Jamie Barjonas that broke the deadlock on 35 minutes, with a direct run from midfield. The visiting defence parted, and he didn’t need to be asked twice, slamming low into the bottom corner and heading off to celebrate with the young ultras at the corner flag.

Athletic equalised just before half-time, Tony Wallace picking up on some slack Kelty defending and drilling low past Jamieson to send the sides in level.

Kelty we’re a little bit wasteful in front of goal in the second half, but with the game heading for a draw, Kallum Higginbotham popped up in the 75th minute, tucking it away from the edge of the box to bag all three points. Another crucial strike from Higgy to keep his side four-point clear heading into the international break.

Broxburn Athletic 0-1 Dundonald Bluebell

Albyn Park, Broxburn

After a well-earned rest, I was back over the Forth into West Lothian for the Sunday lunchtime kick-off at another one of my favourite grounds, Albyn Park. It’s a cracking wee venue, a real mixture of the old & the new - the traditional shed enclosure contrasted by the new wooden clad pavilion building and 4G synthetic pitch.

For my money, the East of Scotland Premier Division is probably the most competitive league in the country right now. Although the top two, Penicuik & Tranent have opened up a health gap, only 8 points separate the next eleven sides and on any given weekend, any side can beat any other on this cut-throat division.

This game was a perfect example of this, Broxburn sitting in 5th while Bluebell started the day in 13th spot. Even though, there was nothing between these two sides all afternoon. The first half was classic cat & mouse game, Broxburn probably shading possession but unable to turn that into anything. Dundonald on the other hand were comfortable soaking up the pressure and hitting the hosts on the break.

Bluebell started to grow in confidence after the break, and Athletic began to look a bit more nervous at having failed to take their chances. It was Elliot Ford who got the only goal of the game with 20 minutes left on the watch, linking up with Jack Smith on the left, his shot catching Donoghue out as snuck in at his near post.

Broxburn gave it a decent go as the clock ticked down but couldn’t really get up a head of steam and Kyle Marley in the Dundonald goal dealt comfortably with anything that came his way. Bluebell held on to take three points back to Fife, a win that lifts them up five places I go 8th spot in the league table.

So that was my mini-hop: 128 miles on the road, 3 games, 1 red card, 1 penalty and 14 goals. Oh, and 1,195 frames shot. You can check out all the pictures from the three matches here:

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