Sunday 19 March 2017, 15.30, Oriam

The final of the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup between Spartans and Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale.

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The Qualifying Cup is contested by teams in the East of Scotland Football Association who are not members of the Scottish Professional Football League.  This essentially means the majority of the Lowland League and East of Scotland League member clubs.  Played in a knockout format, the finalists play Berwick Rangers and Edinburgh City in the East of Scotland Cup semi-finals.

The final of the Qualifying Cup was being played at Oriam, Scotland’s new national performance centre for sport, based at Heriot-Watt University’s Riccarton campus in Edinburgh.  The Scottish Rugby Union and the Scottish Football Association use it as a training facility. Hibs are playing their under-20 fixtures there this season.  It is also used by other sports teams, students and members of the public.  It was my first visit since its completion.

The Scottish Government announced that £25 million would be put towards a new multi-sports centre which would include a national football academy. The remaining £9 million towards the cost of building came from sportscotland, Heriot-Watt University and the City of Edinburgh Council.  The new facility opened in August 2016.

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The centre has a FIFA-accredited 3G pitch which is the largest of its type in Europe. Its dimensions are the same size as those of Hampden Park’s pitch.  At the midpoint of this playing space, the roof is 28m high and there is a 15m playing height at the sides.  The space accommodates a viewing area that can seat 500 people.  The indoor football pitch is covered by a curved steel frame with a PVC roof.

It’s our third look at Spartans this season and second at Vale.

Spartans were sitting in third place in the Lowland League coming into the game.  Probably too far behind East Kilbride at the top for the one promotion play-off spot, but only three points behind second placed East Stirlingshire.  They reached the final of the Qualifying Cup by beating Gala Fairydean Rovers, Coldstream, Leith Athletic and East Kilbride.

Vale are looking like having their now annual battle for the East of Scotland title with Leith Athletic, although they currently sit in third, with Heriot Watt University splitting the two, although they have played several more games than Leith and Vale.  Vale are 5 points behind Leith with a game in hand.  Vale reached the final after beating Tweedmouth Rangers, Selkirk, Eyemouth United and Hawick Royal Albert.

Although the East of Scotland League is there to act as a feeder club to the Lowland League, neither Leith Athletic nor Vale have gone into it after their league wins in recent years.  Despite the league technically being lower down the pyramid than the Lowland League, Leith and Vale regularly win against their more illustrious opponents.  Indeed, Vale knocked out two to reach the final.  They knocked out another, Whitehill Welfare, in their South Region cup tie the previous weekend.

A crowd of around 400, including Hearts’ Jamie Walker turned up for an Edinburgh derby which was the first ever senior final in Scotland played indoors.

Taylor-MacKenzie put a fine ball into the Spartans box from a free kick in 2 minutes after O’Donnell had been fouled, but Brown managed to head the ball away from goal.

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A good run down the left by Allum in 3 minutes saw him make it into the Vale box, but he was eventually crowded out.

In the fifth minute, Beesley’s free kick into the Vale box was headed on at the front post by Allum and came to Townsley.  He struck the ball on the half volley and it came back off the underside of the bar, before the defence cleared.

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A misplaced pass by Beesley in 8 minutes saw Vale with a chance, but Hare’s acrobatic effort from the right was wide.

Three minutes later, a Vale throw in on the right was thrown back to Sherlock who lofted the ball into the Spartans box.  It flew over the head of Carswell and went into the net off the post to give Vale the lead.

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Some determined play down the right by Spartans Herd in 13 minutes saw him cross into the middle where Brown took a touch before hammering goalwards.  For the second time in the opening minutes, a Spartans shot came off the underside of the bar and the defence again got the ball away.

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In 15 minutes, Hare was brought down just outside the ‘D’ of Spartans box by Thomson.  Taylor-MacKenzie’s free kick was well hit, but too high.

Allum tried a shot at the Vale goal in 23 minutes, but Swain managed to push the ball behind.

The same player tried a very ambitious lob at the Vale goal from 30 yards with half an hour gone, but it was too high.

Vale’s Devlin played the ball across the face of the goal in 33 minutes, which just eluded Hare in the middle.

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In 34 minutes, Muir tried his luck from the left and it was deflected and came to the feet of O’Donnell, but his shot was blocked and ran through to Carswell in the Spartans goal.

Vale’s Devlin picked up the game’s first booking in 35 minutes for leaving Beesley in a heap.  Herd was also down in his own box as two Spartans players lay prone.  Both were able to continue.

There were appeals for a penalty from Vale in 41 minutes when O’Donnell’s cross hit Townsley, but the referee waved them away.

With a minute to half time, Vale’s Wringe found Hare in the box, but Thomson managed to get across to block.

In first half injury time, Allum was shown a yellow card for diving as he went down on the half way line.

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Vale in front at half time.  Although their goal had very much looked like a fluke, and Spartans had twice rattled the underside of the bar, Vale had probably been the better side in the opening 45 minutes.

A combination of Muir and Wringe took the ball off Stevenson in 49 minutes and the former set off towards the Spartans goal.  He shot from around 25 yards, but it was too high.

Beesley burst down the right in 57 minutes after receiving a Stevenson pass and went past Taylor-MacKenzie and crossed into the Vale box.  Maxwell beat the keeper to the ball and diverted it into the net for the equaliser.

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Maxwell and Swain both required treatment in the aftermath, which took several minutes.

A Maxwell cross into the Vale box in 65 minutes caused chaos in the defence, but they managed to get it clear eventually.

Vale broke forward in 67 minutes and Hare played the ball through for Wringe in the box, but his shot was saved by Carswell.

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Tolmie rose well in 69 minutes to head Swain’s goal kick back into the Vale half and to the feet of Maxwell.  He chipped the ball into the box over the head of Crawford and Allum slid it past Swain to give Spartans the lead.

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Stevenson was booked in 70 minutes for bringing down Vale’s Moore from behind.

Devlin had a chance for Vale at the back post in 76 minutes and got the ball past Carswell, but Townsley managed to get his body in the way to block.

A cross into the Spartans box in 78 minutes by Brown was acrobatically volleyed at goal by Sherlock, but it was just too high.

Sherlock was booked in 79 minutes for bringing down Allum on the corner of the box.  The defender insisted he hadn’t touched the Spartans striker, who had already been booked for diving, but it was hard to see if he had been caught.

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Vale won a free kick in 82 minutes after Guy had been fouled by Tolmie.  Taylor-MacKenzie went for goal from around 25 yards, but it was a comfortable save for Carswell.

In 40 minutes, Dishington played the ball through for Allum in the Vale box and he slid it past Swain, but it hit the side netting.

There was a chance for Vale in 87 minutes when Hare picked out Devlin.  Carswell blocked and there were claims for a penalty when a player went down, before a follow up shot was blocked.

Spartans Brown was next in the book for a late tackle on Crawford in 89 minutes.

A Beesley cross in 93 minutes saw Allum take a good touch past a defender, but Swain was out quickly to claim.

O’Donnell put a cross right across the face of the Spartans goal in 95 minutes but nobody was able to get a touch in the middle.

With the lengthy injury time, there was still time for one more chance for Vale when Brown hammered at goal on the half volley, but Carswell blocked.

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A much improved second half from Spartans to come from behind to win the trophy in a final that could have gone either way.

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Maxwell and Townsley were best for Spartans while Brown and Crawford were the stand outs for Vale.

As ever, it proved impossible to get a response from Vale when asking for their team line-up, so hopefully what I have is correct.

Full time: Spartans 2 Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale 1

Admission: £5

Spartans: 1 Blair Carswell, 4 Michael Herd, 5 Blair Tolmie, 19 Chris Townsley, 2 Paul Thomson, 7 Jack Beesley, 6 Craig Stevenson (Gabiola 74), 10 Jamie Dishington (Comrie 95), 3 Scott Maxwell, 11 Alan Brown, 9 Ross Allum. Subs: GK Ross Gilpin, 14 Keith Murray, 15 Igor Gabiola, 16 Craig Comrie, 17 Andrew Mair, 18 Cameron Dawson.

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale: 1 Kevin Swain, 2 Dylan Moore, 3 Scott Taylor-MacKenzie, 4 Paul Crawford, 5 John Sherlock, 6 Tony Muir, 7 Willis Hare, 8 Kevin Brown, 9 Sean Wringe (Guy 68), 10 Jamie Devlin, 11 Liam O’Donnell. Subs: Jordan Mungall, Jose Alastuey, 12 James Guy, Declan Moffat, Grant Munro, Hutchison.

Referee: Gavin Ross

Programme: £2

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