Nathan Austin's hat-trick helps Kelty Hearts thump Brora Rangers to set up SPFL play-off with Brechin City

Can-clutching fans danced around the perimeter fencing, ignoring freezing rain and wind to celebrate a momentous day in Kelty Hearts’ history.

Nathan Austin was Kelty Hearts' hero against Brora Rangers.

Finally, the long-awaited confrontation for a place in next season’s Scottish Professional Football League can take place. After dispensing with Highland League champions Brora Rangers at New Central Park, Kelty now host Brechin City on Tuesday week in the first leg of a play-off scrapped unfairly and without proper consultation last year.

The Lowland League winners have the professional ranks in their sights and the Fife locals are here for the journey. They gathered at various spots around the tiny ground’s periphery to enjoy a party. They came equipped with refreshments and even pyrotechnics. Icy, driving rain and swirling winds weren’t going to spoil their sunny disposition.

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Kelty won 4-1 on the day to complete a 6-1 aggregate triumph. Brechin’s onlooking scouting team left with plenty to ponder, not least how to tame the afternoon’s hat-trick hero Nathan Austin – one of many Kelty players with experience of the senior divisions.

The club is led by Ian Thomson, chairman for more than 40 years, and coached by former Rangers team-mates Barry Ferguson and Bob Malcolm. The pair were appointed in October 2018 with a mandate to reach the SPFL.

Thomson’s dream is shared by every supporter who gathered outside New Central Park plus many others not present. Covid interrupted both the Lowland and Highland League this season but Kelty’s level of investment bore fruit in both legs of this pyramid play-off.

They showed good composure on the ball compared to Brora and knew an early goal would effectively kill this contest after a 2-0 midweek win at Dudgeon Park. They made an enforced change when injured centre-back Dougie Hill was replaced by Craig Reid on 18 minutes.

In front the vociferous band of Kelty fans, the visitors dragged themselves back into this tie by taking the lead. Bjorn Wagenaar’s perfectly-weighted through pass sent Greg Morrison in behind the Hearts defence. His first-time left-footed shot across goalkeeper Darren Jamieson nestled in the net.

However, that advantage lasted a mere 60 seconds. A long ball out of defence saw Austin in pursuit with Brora defender Mark Nicolson. Austin delayed shooting until his opponent slid in before firing a deflected shot beyond goalkeeper Joe Malin.

For the second time in a minute, this ground erupted with ecstatic players and officials. Kelty appealed in vain for a penalty before half-time when Austin fell under Colin Williamson’s challenge.

Their progress was secured 13 minutes after the break. Left-back Ally MacDonald’s cross on the run was perfect for Austin to glance away from Malin and into the far corner.

The forward completed his hat-trick with a sumptuous free-kick moments later, the ball arcing high around Malin’s despairing dive.

Even with a four-goal cushion, Ferguson’s drive remained. “Go through him,” he bawled at substitute Cammy Russell after one challenge. Going through is exactly what Kelty will do after Dylan Easton volleyed a fourth goal. One more play-off success and they will enter the SPFL.

Kelty Hearts (4-2-3-1): Jamieson; Stevenson, Hooper, Hill (Reid 18), Boyle; Tidser, Reilly; Philp, Higginbotham (Rodgers 82), Easton; Austin (Russell 62).

Brora Rangers (4-3-3): Malin; Pickles, Nicolson (Gamble 80), Williamson, MacDonald; MacLean, Gillespie, Wagenaar (MacDonald 77); Sutherland, Morrison, A MacRae (J MacRae 77).

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