Tuesday 15 November 2016, 19.45, Ainslie Park
Lowland League fixture between Spartans and Preston Athletic.
Although Edinburgh has often been colder in November, it was a biting wind which everyone struggled to cope with at this game.
It’s my second trip to see Spartans this season and they are currently in second place in the league table. Commendable, but East Kilbride are rapidly disappearing from view at the top with a massive lead already.
Spartans will be glad to be back at home after consecutive losses away from Ainslie Park, losing at Gala Fairydean Rovers and then most recently, being knocked out of the South Challenge Cup at East of Scotland League side Tynecastle. Their last home game saw them destroy Hawick Royal Albert by nine goals to one.
A fourth sighting of Preston this season for us and they are rooted to the bottom of the table and in need of points. Their most recent run out saw them lose 5-3 at Gretna. The signs weren’t good going into this one.
Around 100 hardy souls brave the weather for this one.
Spartans looked to dominate from the start and won a corner in the first minute. Beesley’s corner wasn’t the best, but was missed by a defender and steered goalwards by Tolmie, but it was a comfortable claim for Baines.
Beesley put a good ball into Hay in 2 minutes and the striker shot first time. Baines saved well, but the flag was up for offside anyway.
Spartans’ Malone was guilty of a very late tackle on O’Rourke in 9 minutes and received the first yellow card of the game.
Malone looked to make amends in 14 minutes when he had a shot from the edge of the box, but it was deflected over. Beesley’s corner was met with a powerful header by Townsley, but it was too high.
Good link up play between Beesley and Hay in 19 minutes had Spartans on the attack again and the ball eventually fell to Hay on the edge of the box, but he shot well over.
Preston won a corner in 20 minutes and Ritchie rose well to meet Jardine’s cross. The ball came back off the post and was cleared back out to Jardine on the left. He took aim and sent a curling shot into the far corner to open the scoring.
Lawson became the first Preston player booked in 30 minutes for a late tackle on Dishington.
Beesley played a low cross into the Preston box in 31 minutes and Hay’s shot was flicked on by Dishington’s head, but Baines blocked and the ball was cleared.
In 40 minutes, Townsley cross found Hay peeling away to the back post, but his header was well off target from the Preston goal.
Malone struck for goal from 25 yards in the last minute of the half, but it was well over the bar and Preston’s goal remained intact.
Spartans had nearly all the attacking play in the first half, but Preston were looking relatively comfortable and hadn’t had too many scares. They were looking very solid at the back.
Stevenson took a free kick for Spartans in 48 minutes which was punched clear by Baines. It was odd to see the tall Jardine in the wall when the free kick had been out wide. His height would have been more beneficial in the box.
Baines was lucky to get away with a misplaced short goal kick in 52 minutes, but Preston escaped.
A great run by O’Rourke in 53 minutes saw him dribbling past Spartans defenders before shooting just wide from the edge of the box.
The second half was shaping up like the first. Spartans having the vast majority of territory and possession with Preston looking dangerous on the break.
Preston’s Stevenson picked up a booking in 56 minutes when it looked as though the foul should have been given the other way. He may have been booked for complaining. Beesley saw his free kick from the edge of the box hit the wall.
In 58 minutes, Beesley ran into the Preston box and was brought down by Stevenson. Penalty. A double punishment for the Panners as the defender received his second yellow card and they were reduced to ten men. Beesley took the penalty himself and sent the keeper the wrong way to level the score.
Dishington showed good tenacity in 61 minutes to set up Maxwell, but the Spartans sub shot high over the bar.
A fine run down the left by Lawson in 62 minutes saw him cross into the Spartans box for Ritchie, but the striker didn’t make good contact with the ball. He eventually tried an overhead effort, but it went over the bar.
Hay and Beesley exchanged passes as Spartans came forward in 64 minutes and the former ran in on goal from the left. His shot was parried by Baines before it was cleared.
Preston’s Innes was booked for dissent in 66 minutes.
In 67 minutes, Beesley played the ball to Dishington on the right. He returned the ball to Beesley in the box, but he mishit his shot and the chance was gone.
Tolmie played the ball up the right for Maxwell in 68 minutes as Spartans came forward again. He cut inside and sent a fantastic effort in off the post to give the home side the lead.
Following a Spartans corner, Maxwell latched onto a loose ball in the box and shot for goal in 74 minutes, but Baines saved.
Herd struck a great shot at the Preston goal in 76 minutes from around 23 yards and it was swerving all over the place in the wind. Baines managed to turn the ball over the bar with an unorthodox save.
Spartans were still controlling the game, but seemed to be in no hurry to add to their lead unless the chance came along.
Patient build up by Spartans in 83 minutes ended with Herd finding Maxwell, but his shot from 20 yards was too high.
Maxwell was brought down on the edge of the Preston box in 84 minutes and Stenson stepped up to take it, but his chipped effort was straight into the arms of Baines.
Preston were still putting in the effort and chasing every ball, but were unable to create anything on the break.
In the final minute, a ball over the top of the Preston defence saw Hay through on goal, but Baines made a good save.
Brown had another chance for Spartans in injury time with just Baines to beat, but the keeper saved again.
A dominant performance by the home side who bossed the game throughout. Preston will wonder what might have been if they had remained with 11 men.
Herd impressed in defensive midfield for Spartans and Dishington looked a fine player in midfield. Stevenson spent his evening playing wide left and was hardly involved in the game. He always seemed prominent when I have seen him in central midfield previously.
O’Rourke was good in midfield for Preston and they defended very well and seemed to have their game plan spot on until the sending off. When the first yellow card for Stevenson had been baffling, it would have been a hard one to take for them.
Full Time: Spartans 2 Preston Athletic 1
Spartans: 1 Ross Gilpin, 2 Paul Thomson, 3 Eddie Malone (Brown 75), 4 Blair Tolmie, 5 Chris Townsley (Mair 68), 6 Michael Herd, 7 Jack Beesley, 8 Craig Stevenson, 9 Jack Hay, 10 Jamie Dishington, 11 Broque Watson (Maxwell 45). Subs: 12 Alan Brown, 14 Craig Comrie, 15 Dan Ward, 16 Andy Mair, 17 Igor Gabiola, 18 Scott Maxwell, GK Blair Carswell.
Preston Athletic: 1 Matthew Baines, 2 Gavin Stevenson, 3 Reece Cochrane, 4 David McLeod, 5 Ross Cowan, 6 Craig Innes, 7 Jack Jardine (Callan 59) , 8 Danny O’Rourke, 9 Neil Shave, 10 Stuart Ritchie (Neto 68), 11 Sean Lawson (Graham 73). Subs: 12 Ross Colquhoun, 13 Bruce Callan, 14 Kenny Erskine, 15 Scott Siegel, 16 Fabio Neto, 17 Matthew Graham, 18 Frazer Henderson.
Referee: Peter Stuart