Spartans put on an assured performance to defeat old rivals Whitehill Welfare and set up what promises to be one of the most exciting East of Scotland title races in recent history.
A goal in each half was enough to ensure all three points for Spartans, who have now moved to the top of the table at the expense of the previously unbeaten Welfare who looked a shadow of the side which dismantled pre-season favourites Stirling University the previous weekend.
“That was a big result for us,” said Spartans manager Douglas Samuel. “We knew the consequences of a loss – it would put have huge pressure on us – but the players responded magnificently. We kept our shape and showed great discipline.
“We trusted each other and everyone backed each other up and there were a lot of outstanding performances, but as a unit we played extremely well too.
“We know it’s going to be really difficult to win the title this season because Whitehill and Stirling are both fantastic sides, but I think we kept ourselves in the race witht his result.”
Whitehill were first out of the blocks in front of a healthy crowd at Ainslie Park, with a Dayne Robertson free kick from just outside the area failing to find the target.
At the other end Gary Cennerazzo played Willie Bremner into a dangerous position on the six yard line, but his turn and shot was dealt with by Mike Bruce.
The home side made the breakthrough in the 34th minute. Keith McLeod stalked the ball down towards the left corner flag and played a cut back into the box for Donal Henretty, who was given plenty of time to tee himself up for a drilled shot into the left corner.
The visitors attempted to ratchet up the tempo in the second half, but their efforts failed to produce an equaliser. Wayne McIntosh forced Flockhart into action within a minute of the restart, while Aaron Somerville had a brace of chances cleared away.
At the other end, two dropped catches from the keeper gave the visiting defence some anxious moments.
Spartans’ second goal arrived in the 70th minute, with Jack Beesley putting his own corner back into the mix following an initial clearance and Alisdair MacKinnon was able to head the ball getting on the end of Beesley’s corner.
In the 81st minute an excellent Darren McGlashan strike was met by an equally impressive diving save from Flockhart to deny the visitors a late comeback. “We were well aware of the challenge we were facing,” said Whitehill assistant manager Mike Irving, “and we can have no complaints. Spartans played really well and made it very difficult for us to play the type of game we’re trying to develop.
“We need to dust ourselves down and get ourselves ready for the next game. It was a big week for us having had Stirling and then Spartans, but what we’ve said to the players is that nothing was won or lost on Saturday, and if nothing else it’s certainly made the league that bit more interesting.”
Spartans: Flockhart, Cennerazzo, Henretty, McCuish, MacKinnon, Manson, Martin, Whatley, Anderson (Beesley 61), McLeod (Wringe 78), Bremner (Seeley 85). Subs: Laid, McTurk.
Whitehill Welfare: Walker, McGlashan, Thom (Jordan Hall 46), Bruce, John Hall, Robertson (Brown 74), Manson, A Kidd, Somerville, McIntosh (McCulloch 66), Forbes. Subs: W Kidd, Gormley.