IMAGE PRINTERS CUP QUARTER-FINALS
KENNY PATERSON reports from Ainslie Park
AT this festive time of year, it is usual for a man dressed in red and white to make a welcome appearance.
Unfortunately for Selkirk, three familiar footballers in red and white strips caused them more headaches than a present-less dad on Christmas Eve.
Former Selkirk and Gala Fairydean striker Chris Anderson scored the first Spartans goal, Kelso’s Jack Beesley set up the second, while Andy Martin from Peebles was a constant nuisance to the Souters’ defence.
But Selkirk boss Mike McKinnon preferred to reflect on his side’s efforts to keep the Premier Division leaders off the scoresheet until the 35th minute, when two goals in 240 seconds put the homesters on the road to the Image Printers Cup semi-finals.
McKinnon told TheSouthern: “We were matching Spartans, but when they scored the goal the momentum shifted to them.
“But we dug in and played well in the second half. Over the last 20 or 25 minutes we were probably the better team.
“Effort and commitment is a given for a footballer, but they really did work hard on a big pitch.
“Spartans moved the ball around very quickly and we had to chase the ball a lot.”
McKinnon also defended the decision to switch the tie – after three call-offs at Yarrow Park – to Spartan’s 4G Ainslie Park, the latest artificial pitch technology which is a step-up from Netherdale’s 3G surface.
He added: “I wanted the game played because if we didn’t play it we could have gone eight or nine weeks without a game, taking into account the winter break.
“Some people may say we gave up the tie, switching it to Ainslie Park, but anyone who knows me would know I never give up.”
New Zealand’s World Cup-winning rugby squad trained at Ainslie Park last month ahead of their clash with Scotland, and the opening stages of this tie were as drab as watching a continually-reset scrum, as both teams showed signs of a lack of recent competitive action.
Jamie Gibson and Michael Holness both had efforts in the first 20 minutes which, respectively, went wide and was comfortably held by Spartans keeper Chris Flockhart.
Selkirk looked comfortable during the opening spell until the hosts began moving the ball quickly to either flank.
It was from a superb touchline delivery by Beesley that unmarked Neil MacCuish should have scored, only for the defender to head the ball straight at John Dodds in Selkirk’s goal.
Dodds soon had to deal with an awkward free kick by Beesley, which bounced just in front of the former Ayr United stopper.
At the other end, David Battle had Flockhart concerned with a 40-yard lob which landed on top of his net.
But for all Selkirk’s hard work, they were undone by two goals of real class.
Slick build-up play set up renowned marksman Keith McLeod to head the ball perfectly into the path of Anderson for the Peeblean to toe-poke home.
And the visitors’ hopes were reduced further by the right boot of Beesley, whose outstanding pass bypassed at least three Selkirk players, and allowed McLeod to sidefoot a shot beyond Dodds. McKinnon believed McLeod was offside, but Beesley’s pass was timed to perfection.
There were fears the tie could become an embarassing exercise for Selkirk when Willie Bremner crashed a shot past Dodds via the underside of the crossbar on 52 minutes.
Indeed, Martin’s superb interplay with Mark Whatley almost resulted in a fourth, but the former Vale of Leithen wideman shot well over.
However, Selkirk deserve credit for a fightback of sorts, perhaps aided by Spartans removing their foot from the visitor’s neck.
McKinnon’s side pulled one goal back 19 minutes from time when Jonny Watt’s run and cross was converted at the near post by Battle’s header, although the Spartans defending was as static as the UK economy’s recovery.
And Barry Milven thought he had pulled another back when his header found the net, only for referee Ronnie Strain to rule that Battle’s corner had curled out of play beforehand.
Gibson also struck a fierce 20-yard shot which Flockhart was forced to save, but the last word almost went to Beesley, whose jinking run saw the midfielder beat at least five Selkirk defenders, only to somehow pull his shot wide.
It would have been a fitting end to a superb showing from the exiled Borderer.
Selkirk: J. Dodds, D. Johnson (R. Pepper 63), B. Milven, J. Higginbottom, K. Munro, R. McManus (A. Butters 72), D. Battle (C. Gowans 89), L. Stephen, J. Gibson, J. Watt, M. Holness.