Kelty Hearts 6-0 Threave Rovers
Lowland League Promotion Play-off 2nd Leg
New Central Park, Kelty
Kelty claimed their place in next season's Lowland League in emphatic style, with a dazzling first half display in the Fife sunshine. The home side started as favourites thanks to a 4-nil lead from the first leg, but even in their wildest dreams, they could not have imagined winning promotion with such a convincing victory. With six first half goals, including a Brian Ritchie hat-trick, the Fifers completely blew Rovers away to underline their season long dominance at this level.
Elliot Ford made his return to the starting line-up, replacing Garry Leighton who's had a couple of star performances at right-back in recent weeks, but was struggling with a calf knock.
With a comfortable four goal cushion, Kelty should have been full of confidence as they kicked-off, but stranger things have happened in football, so they would have been keen to get off to a strong start. That came within 5 minutes thanks to Ross Philp, with a bit of help from Jake Gemmell in the Rovers goal. Philp burst down the right, and fired over a speculative ball right on top of the keeper. The spin on the ball caught out Gemmell, who flapped at it, but couldn't stop it dropping in under his crossbar to give the hosts an early lead.
It was a perfect start for Kelty, and it almost got better when Stephen Husband slid a precision pass into the path of Stuart Cargill, but the wee striker dragged his shot wide. Threave were next on the attack, when a Grant Middlemiss shot was cleared for a corner. The dead ball was wasted though, when Scott Christie claimed it easily at his back post, and from that point onwards, it really was all Kelty.
Middlemiss was booked for a cynical foul on Conrad Courts, and when the free-kick was whipped in, Brian Ritchie sneaked in behind the defence to grab his first of the game with a free header. The marking wasn't any better two minutes later, when Scott Dalziel out-jumped everybody to nod down for Ritchie, who had time to pick his spot and slide his second beyond the keeper. There was some chat around the crowd that Rovers were without a number of first team players, who were all missing to attend a wedding, which may have accounted for their lack lustre display. Never the less, leaving a player like Ritchie unmarked in the six yard box, not once but twice, is suicidal defending and the big man punished them with a couple of clinical finishes.
Kelty were flying now, with Philp, Courts and Ford taking it in turns to cut the visiting defence to ribbons. Number four came on twenty minutes from another set-piece, Husband placing his free-kick across the keeper and low inside the left hand post.
Dalziel was next on the scoresheet, squeezing between two defenders to nod past the helpless Gemmell to make it 5-nil with only 25 minutes on the clock. This was the Kelty that we had come to know in the early part of the season: quick, incisive and ruthless, and Rovers had no answer. They nearly conceded again straight away, losing the ball right from the kick-off, with the midfield in disarray, McMurdo only just stopping Philp from running clean through on goal. Middleton had dropped deep to help out in midfield, leaving only Nish on his own up front, and any time they did venture forward, O'Neill & Carstairs were coping comfortably.
Number six came three minutes before half-time, and again it was the Dalziel / Ritchie combination that did the damage. Dalziel winning the ball from Philp's cross, and laying it back to Ritchie to finish through a scrum of bodies for his hat-trick. It was a devastating 45 minutes of football from the East of Scotland champs, killing the tie off and taking their tally of league goals for the season to an incredible 153, with only 12 conceded.
With a 10-nil aggregate lead, the second half wasn't much more than a formality. Rovers were in damage limitation mode, and you could forgive Kelty for throttling back on such a warm afternoon. The game was won, promotion was secured and the players could relax and enjoy their day. Dalziel was replaced by Errol Douglas, who almost had an instant impact, charging through the defence and setting up Cargill, but for once the league's top scorer couldn't apply the finish.
With 25 minutes to go, Cargill and man-of-the-match Ritchie were taken off for Neil McCabe and Ian Nimmo and again the subs were straight into action, Nimmo slamming Philp's cross into the net, but the linesman had his flag up. Carstairs, Ford and Douglas all had chances late on, but they came to nothing, and the 700 strong crowd had to make do with just the six goals. When the final whistle came, there was a brief presentation on the park, with Stuart Cargill picking up his award for being the league's top scorer. And then the champagne corks were popped and the party finally got going.
And so the curtain comes down on a quite remarkable league season for Kelty Hearts. Their first season as a senior club has been successful beyond any expectations, and there's still the matter of a King Cup semi-final on the horizon. Anybody watching Kelty in the first few games of the season would have seen that they were genuine contenders, but the manner in which they've secured their 3rd title in 4 seasons has been quite stunning. Sure, some of the games have been pretty one sided, but football fans want to see goals and anybody who visited New Central Park has seen plenty of them - 111 of them in all competition which is an average of 6.5 goals per game.
There can be no illusion that the sides Kelty will face in the Lowland League next season will be a tougher proposition, but the way this side have risen to every challenge placed in front of them, gives plenty of confidence that they will be more than ready for life in the 5th tier of Scottish football.
Kelty's next match is the King Cup semi-final against either Leith Athletic or Stirling Uni on Friday 18 May at New Central Park
Full match gallery HERE
Christie, Ford, Courts, Carstairs, O'Neill, Husband, Ritchie, Grieg, Dalziel, Cargill, Philp
Subs: MacKenzie, Nimmo, McCabe, Douglas, Leighton, Gibb
Gemmell, Couper, Jamieson, McKeand, Patterson, Forsyth, Liddell, McMurdo, Midleton, Nish, Middlemiss
Subs: Goldie, Shanks