Kelty Hearts 1-1 Stirling Albion
SPFL League 2
New Central Park
The battle of the top two finished all square in a tight affair at New Central Park. Kelty took the lead in the second half through Joe Cardle, but were quickly pegged back by Daniel Scally’s equaliser, as both sides had to settle for a share of the points.
Kelty were without Jamie Barjonas, who had surgery on a broken wrist, and the leaders started with Darren Jamieson in goal, a back-four of Danny Finlayson, Dougie Hill, Jordan Forster and Thomas O’Ware. Andy Black and Connor Barron came back into midfield alongside skipper Michael Tidser, with Joe Cardle on the left, Kallum Higginbotham right and Nathan Austin through the middle. Albion went with a more defensive formation, with Blair Currie in goal, Ross McGeachie, Martin McNiff, Adam Cummins and Jordan McGregor at the back. Marc Laird & Kurtis Roberts were the anchors in a 5-man midfield behind Dylan Bikey, Jack Leitch and Nathan Flanagan, with Dylan Mackin as the lone striker.
There was a minute’s silence before the game to mark the sad passing of Walter Smith. As you would expect for one of the most respected figures in the game, the tribute was perfectly observed and would have been especially poignant for Kelty gaffer Kevin Thomson who played under the great man at Rangers.
When the action got underway it was Albion who enjoyed the best of the early pressure, but despite some good possession, they couldn’t find anything to trouble the Kelty goal. The first quarter of the game was a bit dour, with both sides cancelling each other out in the middle of the park. It took a good 20 minutes before Kelty were able to get a decent sight of goal, but Austin pushed his shot well wide of the far post.
There was a decent crowd inside New Central Park, including a noisy group of travelling fans. The young Ultras have been a feature of the Kelty support this season, making their presence felt with their drum, megaphone and endless singing. But for once, they were outdone by the Albion fans who had a bigger drum, a wider repertoire of chants and even a guitarist to lead the choir.
Back on the park and the best chance of the half came on 25 minutes, Cardle wriggling into the box between two defenders, but Currie stood up well to block the shot with his feet. Cardle had another go a couple of minutes later which was blocked again, but this time the clearance fell nicely for O’Ware, who hit a looping volley from 30 yards out. But the defender’s shot was right down Currie’s throat and the keeper gathered easily. Connor Barron was lively in the first half, and the wee midfielder carved out a couple of good chances, but on both occasions, he fired his shot high over the bar and the sides went in at half-time with score line goalless.
It was more of the same after the break, with Kelty on the front foot in search of the opener, but things just weren’t quite clicking for the league leaders. They had plenty of possession and were knocking it about well, but just couldn’t find the final ball when it really mattered. Albion were solid and well organised at the back, but not really showing a lot of ambition when it came to getting forward.
The breakthrough came for Kelty just after the hour mark after Albion conceded a freekick on the edge of their box. Tidser scored from a similar position against Edinburgh City a couple of weeks ago and shaped up as it he was going to have another go, but instead slipped a disguised pass to Higginbotham who hit the bye-line and cut it back to the penalty spot for Cardle, who drilled it low through the pack of bodies into the bottom corner. Cardle had been the main target for stick from the Stirling fans and would have enjoyed silencing them, even just for a couple of minutes.
Albion responded straight away, Kevin Rutkiewicz making a double substitution within seconds of going behind. The change paid off immediately, sub Scally getting across his marker at the back post and heading home the equaliser with his first touch. It was Striling’s first shot on target of the entire game, but it was enough to get the away fans singing again.
With plenty at stake at the top of the table, there was always a physical side to this contest and to be fair to Albion, that was the one area of the game where they had the edge over Kelty, the visitors having a bit more of a presence in that department. Kelty on the other hand had the advantage when it came to the technical side of things, moving the ball around well, especially in tight areas where some the linkup play between Higginbotham, Tidser and Cardle was a joy to watch. Things did get a little bit bad tempered at times and for brief spell it did look unlikely the game would finish with 22 men on the park. Higginbotham in particular can count himself a wee bit lucky to only see yellow after lashing out in frustration. But things calmed themselves down, and for the most part, the game was played in the right spirit.
Joe Cardle almost had the last laugh on the visiting fans after another nice passage of play down the right hand side, but the angle was a bit too tight, and he just couldn’t squeeze his shot in at the front post. In the end, it finished all square and although Kelty might feel they’d done enough to take all three points, they won’t be too disappointed, the draw enough to maintain their 6 point lead at the top of League 2. And with Heart of Midlothian losing at Pittodrie, that leaves Kelty Hearts as the only unbeaten team in the Scottish League.
Next up for Kelty is the short trip down the A909 to face bottom side Cowdenbeath in the second derby of the season, while Albion will be at home to Stenhousemuir.
Man of the Match: Once again skipper Michael Tidser was the main man for Kelty, pulling the strings in midfield and leading by example. At points in time when the game was getting bogged down in the middle of the park, Tidser was always able to bring a bit of composure and pick out the pass to get his side going forward.
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