Penicuik take positives of draw as ‘eight cup finals’ await in Conference A

Penicuik Athletic co-manager Tony Begg felt it was a point gained rather than two points lost as the East of Scotland Conference A league leaders maintained their five-point lead at the summit with a battling 1-1 draw against Hill of Beath.

Penicuiks Steven Notman and Hill of Beaths Daniel Watt clash.

They did so having played almost 70 minutes with ten men after former Spartans man Craig Stevenson saw red for a cynical swipe tackle, the sending-off coming after Penicuik had taken an early lead through midfielder Sam Jones.

Beath had beaten Penicuik twice prior to Saturday’s encounter – the only club to have inflicted a defeat on them this season – so to gain a point was invaluable as they secured a big advantage in the title race with eight games remaining.

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Begg says they now have eight “cup finals” ahead of them as they bid to secure the league crown ahead of a round-robin play-off for a shot at getting into the Lowland League.

“When you consider we went down to ten men after 22 minutes when were 1-0 up, you can’t be anything other than happy to come away with a point under those circumstances,” said Begg. “It feels like a point well earned; we are pleased to get a point – a point does us no harm and it keeps the gap the same. In a game like this, it’s a proverbial six-pointer so it’s definitely a point gained for us.

“We’ve got eight league games left now and I’m sure us and Hill of Beath in those games will go toe-to-toe and the first result we will both be looking out for is each other’s. The most important thing is we do our job in these next eight games. It’s eight cup finals now; eight huge games. Since Christmas things have really tightened up in the league, there are not really many big scorelines now. Every game is going to be a tight game and we need to be absolutely bang at it.”

Begg felt his side displayed a different facet to their game on Saturday. The Cuikie are well-known for their pretty passing style but at times there have been question marks in matches when they have needed to battle it out.

He continued: “I think what we saw on Saturday was a different Penicuik performance. We’ve had plaudits for the last couple of years about how well we play and how well we build up – ‘we’re a good nice passing team’ and ‘we’re nice on the eye’ – I think there has been question marks in the past; can we dig in, can we battle and compete in a game like that, and I think we answered that with our performance with ten men.

“When they scored so soon into the second half, you start to think have we got that character and mentality that we can take a knock back so early in the second half? Or are we going to crumble or stand up and be counted – and to be fair to our players they answered that.”

Kyle Sampson was first to test out visiting goalkeeper Stuart Hall after just three minutes when his backward header landed right into the Beath keeper’s gloves.

The home fans didn’t have long to wait for the opener, however, as Jones raced onto Scott McCrory-Irving’s through ball, luckily avoiding Kevin Conners’ wild challenge, before waiting for Hall to dive and he sent the ball in at the near post after ten minutes.

Striker Josh Morris came close for the visitors, sending his shot into the side netting five minutes later as Beath looked for an instant response.

Penicuik were dealt a huge blow when Stevenson saw red for bringing down Lyle Kellichan, the fact it was in front of the visiting bench doing him no favours whatsoever as they reacted angrily to his challenge.

With their man advantage, Beath got their equaliser six minutes into the second half when Jake Mitchell ran through before dispatching past keeper Liam Robertson.

Callum Connolly came close with a header for the hosts, before Robertson produced a fantastic save to deny Daniel Watt with five minutes remaining after an impressive run from the excellent Joseph Kirby.

Penicuik Athletic: Robertson, Stevenson, Baptie, Young, Page, Notman (Crabbe), Sampson, Connolly, Somerville (Ponton), Jones (Caddow), McCrory-Irving.

Hill of Beath: Hall, Grierson, Kellichan, Conners (Dair), Harrower, Mitchell, Denton, Patrick, Morris (Elder), Watt, Kirby.