Kallum Higginbotham explains secrets behind Kelty Hearts success as manager Kevin Thomson tipped for top

It was the Scottish Cup fourth-round tie that many observers had touted for an upset. Holders St Johnstone, bottom of the Premiership, on a nine-game losing streak, away at ambitious Kelty Hearts, runaway leaders at the top of League 2.

Kallum Higginbotham celebrates his goal against St Johnstone. Pic: Kevin Marshall
Kallum Higginbotham celebrates his goal against St Johnstone. Pic: Kevin Marshall

Those hunches became reality by 5.30pm on Saturday when the full-time whistle blew at New Central Park. Kallum Higginbotham’s strike in extra time was enough to seal the tie 1-0 and send Saints packing. This small, tight-knit ground in Fife erupted. Another chapter has been etched into the history of Kelty Hearts.

Under the tutelage of former Hibs and Rangers midfielder Kevin Thomson, Kelty are seven points clear at the top of their division and long odds-on to win promotion. They can now look forward to facing another Premiership club in the next round of the cup, as they were paired with St Mirren in the fifth-round draw. These are exciting times for Kelty.

“We worked on a gameplan all week to frustrate them, sit deep and let their back line have the ball,” explained Higginbotham. “To try and pick them off on the counterattack and that’s where the goal came from. To a man, we carried out the gameplan to perfection. We are delighted to get the result.

Kelty Hearts manager Kevin Thomson is delivering great success for the club.

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"I think they started to go a bit more long ball as the game started to developed into the later stages. They’re a Premiership team. They’ve got to come here and take the game to us. But with the quality we’ve got in the squad, I knew we would be able to stand up to them and take the game to them. In the second part of extra-time, we created numerous chances and could have scored a couple goals.”

There is a buoyancy around Kelty right now. Winning obviously helps – and most weeks they do in League 2 – but Higginbotham, who has experienced life at Dunfermline, Partick and Real Kashmir amongst others, says he couldn’t ask for a better group of team-mates to work with.

“It puts us out there as a squad with the quality we’ve got,” the 32-year-old said of the win. “With the camaraderie and the togetherness we’ve got, we have all the makings of a successful squad. You see it even in the boys who aren’t playing. Sometimes you get boys that are sulking. But they come in and do an unbelievable job off the bench. When everyone’s pulling in the right direction, it makes for a very successful squad. Ultimately, our aim is to try and get promotion. A cup run would be amazing but our focus now has to turn to the league. Elgin away on Tuesday night, it doesn’t come much harder than that.

Higginbotham also reserved praise for his boss Thomson, who is making a strong fist of his first job in football management with the part-timers.

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“People don’t see him on a Tuesday and Thursday,” continued Thomson. “His training and the way he is, his man-management, is top notch, one of the best I have worked under. I think he will go to the top in the game. To be able to get part-time players to buy into a gameplan in two nights … we only worked on it on Tuesday and Thursday night, and it was completely different to the way we play in League Two. It just shows as a squad the belief we have in the manager and the management team. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He has transformed us as a squad into a team that believes we can go out and win every game. I’m not blowing smoke up his backside but I do believe he will go to the top. Absolutely.”

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