There is no side in the Lowland League who I don’t like watching. They can all play good football and they’re all worth the few quid you pay to get in. Spartans vs Stirling was the third game of the day and I expected a tight affair. I really enjoyed my visit to the University of Stirling for their Scottish Cup game earlier in the season and when I watched Spartans last year at Selkirk, they looked quite good too. I knew exactly what the ground looked like as I’ve watched a live stream of the Scottish Women’s Cup final which was played there. It was between Glasgow City and Hibernian and I think Hibs won 0-1. Anyway, following the game at Tranent, we had to make a quick getaway and we made it to Spartans around 20 minutes before kick-off. It is fair to say they’re very generous people! Upon entry they were giving everyone in possession of a groundhop ticket a free pin badge and you could quite easily get hold of a team-sheet for nothing. Some clubs would charge you a fiver for a pin badge! I was quite impressed by the set up. They seemed very well organised and I quite liked the ground actually. I can imagine it really works on a community level. Yes, it is a modern 3G pitch with a new stand but the stand isn’t one of the pre-fab stands that you see popping up all over the place. The stand actually quite impressed me. The food was good too. I had a nice sausage roll served by who I think were members of the women’s team who play in the Women’s Premier League. Some people don’t like the 3G pitches but to be honest, I don’t mind them. They’re normally responsible for a more attractive style of football and they can have a massive financial gain for a non-league club. I do think the future of non-league football lies within 3G pitches. I haven’t mentioned it yet but a huge thing which happened last week had me originally gutted. On Wednesday, it was announced that Horden CW were to fold. The club means everything to me and with the history of the club, it simply couldn’t die. I’m pleased that Norman Stephens stepped straight back in and is continuing to help the club find a home. I don’t care who is involved with the club, I’ll definitely be a part of it helping out with the social media and programme etc. All I want is a team named Horden CW to be playing football and the players on the pitch deserve it. I’ll do all I can. Anyway, back to this game and having quickly eaten my sausage roll, we took a position between the two dugouts.
The University of Stirling FC was formed in 2008 and the club was admitted to the First Division of the East of Scotland Football League, after Berwick Rangers withdrew their reserve team. The 2009–2010 season was one of great success for the students, as they won the First Division title in only the team’s second season in the East of Scotland League. They also won the Scottish Universities Championship and reached the King Cup final, losing to East of Scotland Premier Division champions Spartans 0–2 at Ferguson Park, Rosewell. In the 2010–2011 season, in their first season in the East of Scotland Premier Division, the students secured a second-place finish and also suffered defeat in the King Cup final at the hands of Spartans at the Falkirk Stadium. They were successful in the Alex Jack Cup, winning the final 7–0 against Lothian Thistle at the Falkirk Stadium. In 2012, Stirling University again won the Alex Jack Cup, beating Gretna 2008 in the final. In March 2012, the university’s first year scholar Stephen Hoyle left the program to sign for ASB Premiership side Hawke’s Bay United in New Zealand. Stirling University had a remarkable 2011–2012 season, bringing three trophies back to the university, including the East of Scotland Premier Division title for the first time. This saw the university compete in the 2012–2013 Scottish Cup, participating in the Scottish Cup for the first time in the club’s history. Stirling University were drawn against Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic in the second round, with the university getting beat 0–1. At the end of the 2012-2013 season, goalkeeper Kevin Walker left the university to sign a one-year professional contract with Scottish Championship side Livingston. When it was announced in 2013 that Stirling University would be admitted to the Lowland League, it was also announced that they would use Stirling Albion’s Forthbank Stadium for their home fixtures. In August 2014 they announced their new manager as Shelley Kerr, becoming the first senior club in Britain to appoint a female manager. In the first season of the Lowland League, Stirling finished second, behind their opponents today, Spartans. Last season Spartans finished 5th while Stirling were 6th and before today, the University of Stirling were second in the league with 43 points from 19 games while Spartans were 3rd with 42 points from 20 games.
With kick-off at 17:00, it was Spartans who created the first chance. Five minutes had been played when Dean Horribine won the hosts a corner but once swung into the penalty area, Stirling cleared. Two minutes later, it looked as though Jack Beesley had been played in but luckily for the Students, assistant referee Ross Hoggan had ruled him offside. It was Spartans who started the sharper and on 8 minutes, Keith Murray did very well for the hosts to hold possession and fire the ball across the face of goal but Danny Ashe picked up the ball and hooked clear. As they continued to dominate the chances, a Spartans corner came into the penalty area to find Paul Thomson but he could only head wide. It took until the quarter of an hour mark for the University of Stirling to create their first chance. Jeff Duah-Kessie took down a long ball and turned to send a shot which was deflected behind for a corner. The resulting corner was swung into the penalty area but came to nothing. Two minutes later, Paul McCafferty started a promising break for the away side but his final through ball was a bit under hit and cleared to safety by a Spartans man. With 18 minutes on the clock, Spartans’ Alan Brown won his side a corner. It was curled into the penalty area only for Ryan Marshall to catch. Halfway through the second half, Jeff Duah-Kessie danced a way through but just as he was about to shoot, a nudge in the back meant he ran the ball out of play. Only a minute later, Paul Sludden collected the ball for the Students but his rather weak effort was an easy save for Blair Carswell.In the 25th minute, Spartans’ Jack Beesley found room on the penalty spot but his effort was blocked and bounced out for a corner. This corner was played short but came to nothing. Two minutes before the half hour mark, Spartans somehow survived a real scare. The always dangerous Jeff Duah-Kessie was played in for Stirling and he slotted past Blair Carswell only for his effort to come back off the post. It then fell to Paul Sludden who must have thought he had given his side the lead when sending a low drive but a sensational save from Blair Carswell somehow kept the ball out. At this point, Stirling University were looking to take control. A minute later, a corner from the student side was lifted into the penalty area and Jeff Duah-Kessie rose highest but the Ghanaian Sports Management student could only head wide. Another corner for the side from Stirling came into the penalty area a few minutes later but this time Kyle Faulds headed wide. Following promising build up play, Spartans worked the ball around to find Dean Horribine but he could only shoot wide while two minutes later, Keith Murray went for an ambitious long-range effort but it flew well wide. A moment of controversy followed soon after. Jeff Duah-Kessie looked to get a hand to the face from a Spartans player (accidental I think) and Duah-Kessie fell to the floor. His team-mates were appealing for a penalty and the referee immediately blew up. But, not to award him a penalty but to give Spartans a free-kick and book Jeff Duah-Kessie for diving. In the 43rd minute, Spartans’ James Dishington collected a low ball and managed to get a poked effort away from 12 yards but Ryan Marshall was quickly down to save while moments later, David Greenhill went in the book for the home side after kicking the ball away. With the first halves final chance, after 45 minutes and 40 seconds, Dean Horribine sent a dipping effort for the hosts which was well saved to safety and with 46 minutes and 10 seconds played, the referee blew for half-time.
Half-time: Spartans 0-0 University of Stirling
The second half kicked-off with a slight delay due to an injury to a Spartans man and this was followed by a high ball coming my way and producing a fine save. I gave the ball to Stirling’s Calum Barnes who then took a throw in. On 51 minutes, Spartans won themselves a corner which came into the penalty area to find Paul Thomson who headed not too far wide. Meanwhile, at the other end, Peiman Pahlevan and the man who plays international Futsal for Sweden accelerated down the wing to pick out Paul Sludden with a cross. Sludden turned quickly and while leaning back, he fired narrowly over the crossbar and soon after Jeff Duah-Kessie looked to be in on goal for Stirling but a perfectly timed last-ditch tackle prevented him from a goal scoring opportunity. A minute later, a wide Stirling free-kick came to nothing while with 57 minutes played, Jack Beesley whipped the ball into the penalty area and it fell kindly for Keith Murray. Murray was in a one-on-one situation at this point but he could only knock wide. He could have and maybe should have scored. A minute before the hour mark, Spartans’ Craig Stevenson lifted a free-kick into the penalty area which was knocked down to David Greenhill. Greenhill took a touch before skewing wide. On 62 minutes, the visitors made a first substitution as Chris Geddes took the place of Paul McCafferty. With 25 minutes left, a wide Spartans free-kick was headed behind for a corner by Jeff Duah-Kessie. The resulting corner was swung into the back post where it was headed back across goal. A scramble followed but Stirling were relieved to be able to eventually hook clear. Halfway through the second half, a Stirling corner came to the edge of the penalty area to find Ben Cuff but he couldn’t find the desired contact with a volley and a few minutes later, Spartans made a first change as Jack Beesley gave way for George Hunter. With 17 minutes left, a Spartans corner came into the penalty area to find Robbie McNab but the former Falkirk man could only volley over the crossbar. The referee produced a yellow card when Calum Barnes took one for the team for Stirling on 74 minutes and Craig Stevenson played the resulting free-kick short and it eventually came into the penalty area where Jamie Dishington’s strong header was saved. Inside the final 13 minutes, the University of Stirling made a second substitution as Andrew Gillen gave way for Tomos Jones. Both sides knew that there wasn’t an awful lot of time remaining at this point and they were both looking for a winner. When Jamie Dishington collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area for the home side, he tried his luck but could only head over while at the other end, Jeff Duah-Kessie won a corner which was crucially headed clear just as Danny Ashe rose at the back post. Five minutes of the ball being in the centre of the park followed before a good Spartans cross was well picked out of the air by Ryan Marshall. The visitors then had a couple of goes as both Tomos Jones and Jeff Duah-Kessie both had goes which were blocked and with 89 minutes and 5 seconds played, the winning goal was scored and it went against the students. Keith Murray collected the ball and the former Hibernian youth player sent a low powerful 25-yard drive which Ryan Marshall got a strong hand on but he was ultimately unable to keep the ball out of the goal and Spartans had taken what was probably a decisive lead.
Spartans 1-0 University of Stirling
Following the goal, Spartans made a second substitution as Dean Horribine gave way for Ewan Saunderson but there was still time for the University of Stirling to give it a good go. A wide free-kick for the students was clawed behind for a corner in the 91st minute but it was too deep and after Spartans’ Keith Murray had been booked, another free-kick for Stirling came into the penalty area but this time a flick on saw it bounce into the ‘keeper’s hands. With 93 and a half minutes played, a Spartans header was easily saved by Ryan Marshall and with the games last chance, a wide Stirling free-kick was whipped into the penalty area by Calum Barnes but it was too deep. The university did have shouts for handball when the ball bounced off a Spartans man but the referee disagreed and gave a goal-kick instead. After 95 minutes and 20 seconds, the referee eventually blew for full-time and the crucial hard-fought win saw Spartans climb to second in the league.
Full-time: Spartans 1-0 University of Stirling
This was probably the game I enjoyed the most of the whole hop. They’re two very good sides who both play very nice football. It’s a shame there had to be a losing team! Next up for me at the time of writing is Ryhope CW vs Easington Colliery tomorrow.
Spartans Team: Carswell, Herd, McNab, Dishington, Thomson, Greenhill, Brown, Stevenson, Murray, Beesley, Horribine
Spartans Subs: Saunderson (On for Dean Horribine, 90 minutes), Archibald, Hunter (On for Jack Beesley, 71 minutes), Maxwell, Rae
University of Stirling Team: Marshall, Barnes, Walker, Cuff (c), Ashe, Faulds, Pahlevan, Gillen, Duah-Kessie, McCafferty, Sludden
University of Stirling Subs: Hunter, Jones (On for Andrew Gillen, 78 minutes), Geddes (On for Paul McCafferty, 62 minutes), Bonnar, Hughes
Admission: Groundhop ticket
Programme: Groundhop ticket
Sausage roll: £1.50
Pin badge: Free
Referee: Chris McNab