Saturday 20 May 2017, 14.00, Central Park
The second leg of the Scottish League Two play-off final between Cowdenbeath and East Kilbride.
When we watched Cowdenbeath win 1-0 at home to Clyde in April, it looked like they might have enough to escape bottom of League Two and the play-off game with the winners of the Lowland League. In the end, they were 3 points short.
East Kilbride wrapped up the Lowland League title just after we saw them at the end of March. It was a league they led for almost the entire season and they held off the challenge of East Stirlingshire. They overcame Highland League champions Buckie Thistle 4-3 on aggregate to earn their place in the play-off final. The trip to Central Park held no fears for East Kilbride as they won there in October in the second round of the Scottish Cup.
The first leg finished goalless, with Cowden missing a penalty, saved by McGinley, with three minutes to go.
A crowd of 1,676 turned up to watch, with the Cowdenbeath fans housed in the old and new stands on one side of the pitch, and the East Kilbride fans exposed to the elements on the terracing.
With 20 minutes to kick off, there were no programmes left. It seemed there was a bigger than expected crowd. We initially took seats in the new stand, but were too near the front and were being caught by the rain, so moved to the old one.
In the opening minute, Buchanan put the ball into the EK box looking for Carrick, but the defence managed to get the ball away.
A miscued clearance by Cowden’s McLaughlan in the second minute sent the ball to the heavens, but Sneddon came out of his goal to claim.
Henderson laid the ball back to Mullen in 4 minutes on the edge of the EK box and his low drive found the corner to give the hosts an early lead.
There was some neat play by EK in 6 minutes and McLeish chipped the ball into the Cowden box. Vitoria got his head to it, but it was off target.
Henderson lined up a shot at the EK goal in 7 minutes, but he dragged his shot harmlessly wide.
A mistake in 8 minutes by EK’s Russell gave Carrick a chance to break forward and he sprinted up the right wing, but his ball into the box was eventually cleared.
In 12 minutes, Henderson played the ball forward to Carrick whose shot from 22 yards was just over the bar.
Buchanan cleverly found Carrick in the EK box in 13 minutes, but his shot was saved by the foot of McGinley. The rebound fell to Henderson whose shot was deflected wide. The resultant corner saw Mullen’s delivery headed against the bar by Carrick via a deflection, before Renton’s shot was deflected over.
Syme was a bit short with a passback in 19 minutes and Vitoria raced onto it, but Sneddon was quickly out of the Cowden goal to clear.
Buchanan crossed into the EK box in 22 minutes, but Renton’s header was blocked and the defence got the ball away.
Cowden’s Mullen was booked in 23 minutes for kicking the ball away.
East Kilbride won a free kick 25 yards from goal in 24 minutes and Strachan’s shot hit the defensive wall and spun wide.
Gibbons was booked for EK in 25 minutes for handball. Mullen took the free kick, but it was a comfortable save for McGinlay.
With 27 minutes gone, Russell took an EK free kick and put it to the back post where he found Winter, but his acrobatic volley went wide.
Cowden’s Piper had to go off for treatment in 30 minutes after being caught by Woods, but he quickly returned to the fray.
Strachan passed to Woods in 36 minutes and he got to the byline on the left. He played the ball across the Cowden six yard box and it hit Sneddon, but there was no one there to tap home.
Piper found Renton in 40 minutes and he struck a half volley at the EK goal, but it was inches wide and had taken a nick on the way through.
Some great play by EK’s Strachan in 42 minutes saw him beat Piper before playing the ball to the back post where Stevenson volleyed well off target.
A loose header by McLaughlan just before half time was latched onto by EK’s McLeish, but his shot wasn’t close to troubling Sneddon.
In first half injury time, Buchanan exchanged passes with Carrick before shooting wide of the EK goal.
Still 1-0 to Cowden at the break in a game they looked like running away with in the early stages. EK were starting to work their way into the match and would have been pleased to only be one goal behind at the interval.
Cowdenbeath assistant manager Billy Brown returned early from a family holiday in Magaluf for the game. He had booked the holiday before he was appointed. His flight, however, was delayed and he didn’t arrive until half time.
Two minutes into the second half Strachan’s attempted cross into the Cowden box hit Mullen and went behind. Strachan claimed it had hit Mullen’s hand, but a corner was given.
Cowden broke quickly from an EK corner in 53 minutes with Miller finding Buchanan, but the defence managed to get the ball behind for a corner at the other end.
Cowdenbeath’s Buchanan was booked in 61 minutes for bringing down Winter.
An attempted clearance by the Cowden defence in 65 minutes came to Gibbons about 20 yards from goal and his low shot skidded off the wet turf and into the net to tie the score.
Carrick held the ball up well for Cowden in 70 minutes before laying it off to Miller. He put the ball into the middle and a defender just managed to get there in front of Carrick to turn the ball away.
A minute later and Miller’s ball to the back post saw Henderson get his head to it, but McGinley in the EK goal was able to catch his effort.
Strachan tried a dipping shot at the Cowden goal from distance in 75 minutes, but it was an easy save for Sneddon.
Vitoria got to the Cowden by-line in 80 minutes, but Mullen did well to get something on his pass across goal and it fell kindly for the defender, going to the hands of Sneddon.
A minute later and Carrick was almost through for Cowden, but McGinley was quickly out of his goal.
Some loose passing at the back by Cowden almost gave EK a chance in 82 minutes, but Mullen managed to win a free kick for his side.
Vitoria came forward for EK on the left in 85 minutes and he cut inside and shot for goal, but McLaughlan threw himself at the ball to deflect it wide.
Some great hold up play by Carrick in 86 minutes saw him lay the ball off to Buchanan who strode forward and shot from the edge of the EK box, but his shot was turned away by McGinley’s diving save.
East Kilbride won a free kick in the ‘d’ outside the Cowden box in injury time. Strachan stepped up to take it, but his shot was deflected over the bar.
The proverbial game of two halves with East Kilbride getting stronger as the match progressed and they looked more likely as the game went on. Strachan had orchestrated EK’s comeback and they could easily have won it.
The already soaked EK fans on the terracing could probably have done without extra time. The rain had been torrential at times.
In the fifth minute of extra time a shot from Strachan was deflected up onto the top of the Cowden bar before going over. There was little else of note in the first period of extra time.
Winter tried an ambitious effort at the Cowden goal in 109 minutes, but it was off target.
Cowden forced a couple of corners, but they didn’t come to anything.
The rain was really lashing down at this point.
Great play by EK in 113 minutes saw them work the ball to Woods in the box, but a good tackle by Syme halted his progress.
In the final minute of extra time, a loose pass gave the ball to Cowden’s Henderson on the left. He played it inside for Johnston who turned and shot at goal but McGinley tipped it over the bar.
So penalties were to decide which team would play in League Two and which would play in the Lowland League.
Cowden went first and Mullen, Renton and Syme scored the first three for them, while EK responded with Strachan and McLean netting. Woods took EK’s third, but saw it saved by Sneddon.
Johnston scored next for Cowden with Vitoria replying for EK. Henderson took Cowden’s fifth with the chance to win the tie and he stroked the ball home to finally settle the outcome.
A hard one to take for East Kilbride who could easily have won the game, but commendable fight from Cowdenbeath to preserve their League Two status.
Carrick’s hold up play was vital to Cowden’s chances while Strachan almost single handily pulled EK back into the game.
Full Time: Cowdenbeath 1 East Kilbride 1 (After Extra Time). Cowdenbeath won 5-3 on penalties.
Cowdenbeath: 4-4-217 Jamie Sneddon, 2 David Syme, 5 Scott Rumsby, 21 Gerry McLaughlan, 23 Jamie Piper, 20 Robbie Buchanan (O’Brien 86), 4 Fraser Mullen, 6 Kyle Miller (Moore 86), 12 Liam Henderson, 14 Kris Renton, 9 Dale Carrick (Johnston 108). Subs: 11 Matthew Rooney, 18 Craig Johnston, 29 Cameron Muirhead, 1 David McGurn, 8 Burton O’Brien, 7 Lewis Moore.
East Kilbride: 4-4-1-1 1 Matthew McGinley, 2 Scott Stevenson (McLaren 90), 4 David Proctor, 5 Craig Howie, 3 Barry Russell, 7 Sean Winter (McLean 112), 8 Craig McLeish, 6 Kieran Gibbons, 10 Adam Strachan, 11 Joao Pereira Vitoria, 9 Paul Woods. Subs: 14 Bernard Coll, 16 Martin McBride, 12 Russell McLean, 15 Declan Hughes, 18 Dominic McLaren, 17 Ross McNeil, 25 Jacob Kean.
Referee: Craig Charleston