Bathgate Thistle welcomed Kelty Hearts to Creamery Park in the first round of the East of Scotland Cup.
Home manager Andrew Colley faced a tough task in getting his team ready for the visit of Super League outfit Kelty Hearts in this cup encounter. The team from Fife are currently leading the Super League after a blistering start to the season that has seen them win every fixture so far to lead the table with the only 100% record so far. They arrived having scored 19 goals across those six matches and conceding only 6 with Bathgate having a somewhat more difficult run lately.
As has been the case over the first few weeks of the season Colley was forced to make significant changes to his starting eleven. Notwithstanding tactical tweaks to combat the strength of the opponents he had to contend with the absence of McLeod, Taylor, Griffin, Hutton and Easton from midfield. Conceivably all 5 might have started. Also missing was Darren McIntosh who was completing his suspension. He opted to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Michael Watson in goals; Jamie Clark, Darren MacIsaac, George Bonnar and Grant MacDonald at the back. Hassan Nyang and Reece Boyle played as defensive midfielders with Gordon Harris, Darren Dalrymple and Rhys Minnock further forward and Robbie Feeney up-front.
Bathgate kicked off and started well. In the opening minutes they were passing the ball around at the back and retaining possession. When the opposition had the ball they were working hard to win it back. The first serious effort on goal also came their way when they were able to work the ball down the left wing and feed Robbie Feeney on the edge of the box. His shot was hard and low but close enough to the keeper for him to save comfortably.
Play was very even over the first ten minutes but Bathgate fell behind when Kelty sent a free kick in from the right hand side that Darren MacIsaac misjudged and instead of going out for a bye-kick was retrieved by a Kelty player. He cut the ball back into the path of a teammate and his shot went straight to Stuart Cargill who had taken up position on the edge of the 6 yard box. The striker stuck a leg out and controlled the ball before redirecting the shot into the left hand corner to put his side in front. 0-1
Kelty then began to look every inch the Super League leaders that they are as they began to stroke the ball about very confidently in midfield. Stephen Husband and Craig Thomson were always happy to receive the ball and the movement and speed of passing was proving tough for the Bathgate players to combat. Nyang in midfield was trying to break up play whenever he could and Darren Dalrymple whose first touch was as excellent as ever was running at the defence at every opportunity but it was difficult to provide any real ammunition for Feeney to exploit. The Jags were working their socks off though.
Kelty could have doubled their lead when a corner from the right was headed towards goal but Cargill somehow managed to head over from 2 yards out when it seemed easier to score. Cargill, a constant threat then tried his luck from 20 yards but his shot was easily held by Watson.
Bathgate were having to counter whenever they could and a couple of times managed to get Dalrymple and Feeney into advanced areas but a Kelty touch managed to thwart them at the key moments. At the back the home side were defending valiantly and Bonnar was really putting his body on the line by blocking everything he could with whatever part of his body was available. Just before half time Bathgate managed to win a free kick on the edge of the area. Jamie Clark tried to wrap his dangerous left foot around it but it went just over the bar. Kelty had dominated possession but The Jags were not making it easy for them at all. HT 0-1
Kelty started the second half and immediately went looking for a second goal. McCabe picked the ball up on the edge of the box and smartly moved the ball into a shooting position before letting fly. Watson made a great save to turn the ball round the post. Cargill was the booked for a dive as they threatened again.
To their immense credit this sparked Bathgate into life and they went on to take the game to the Fifers for the next 15 minutes, creating several chances. First, Harris and Feeney combined on the edge of the box to lay the ball off to Nyang who smashed the ball towards goal from 25 yards. The shot was low and full of venom and the Kelty keeper did well to get down and smother the ball.
Next, Nyang won the ball on the right hand side of eth field and played the ball to Dalrymple who managed to work the ball to Nyang again on the edge of the box. The Gambian worked the ball to the advancing Jamie Clark whose teasing left foot cross almost met Nyang, again, for a header at the back post.
Bathgate were keeping the ball in the Kelty half now and managing to move the ball around the opposition are much like Kelty had done in the first half. Boyle in midfield was getting further up the park and he set up Minnock for a speculative shot. The young midfielder had a couple of shots on goal but they were all falling to his right foot when his left would have been for more dangerous and accurate.
Dalrymple did excellently to make space for a shot and let fly from 20 yards after receiving the ball from a throw-in but his drive was high over the bar. Bathgate were really playing well now but Kelty stopped the revival in its tracks when they scored a second. A long floated ball into the box was met by the head of Dalziel and his knock down went straight to Cargill at the back post for a cool clipped finish high into the net. It was cruel on Bathgate but evidence that when you’re on top in a game especially against a team of their opponent’s quality you must make it count. 0-2
Kelty were playing confidently now and twice came close with efforts from the right hand side of the box. One which Watson saved after fully extending his right arm and another which narrowly went wide and probably should have been finished. Their third goal arrived from the spot and it looked to be an awfully soft award. Bonnar stretched out a leg to block a shot which didn’t come and the opposition players momentum took him over his leg. Tellingly there were no Kelty appeals but still the referee awarded it and Cargill completed his hat trick by sending the keeper the wrong way. The striker departed shortly after and will have been well pleased with his afternoons work. 0-3
Kelty, now immensely comfortable played a possession game and although Bathgate worked their socks off, as they had done so all through the game, were not able to create many chances. Feeney came off, exhausted after putting an incredible shift in up front to be replaced by Jordan Thomson. Liam Healy, made his debut after signing during the week and Jack Kelly, a product of last seasons U19s, entered the action as well.
Kelty got a fourth, which was extremely cruel on Bathgate, when O’Neil headed a corner back across goal and into the net with the very last touch of the match. 0-4
To be clear, Kelty Hearts were deserved winners. The quality of their play at times was both delightful and frightening to watch. It’s clear that they will be favourites this season to win the Super League and rightly so. Bathgate though can be proud of the way they played and manager Colley gathered the players on the pitch at full time to tell his players exactly that. No-one had anything left in the tank and had left everything on the park. When the opposition are of the quality the visitors possessed then that is all you can ask.
Bathgate: Watson; Clark, Bonnar, MacIsaac, Macdonald; Boyle, Nyang, Harris, Dalrymple, Minnock; Feeney Subs: McLeod, Kelly, Kennedy, Thomson, Healy
Kelty Hearts: Marley, Carstairs, Courts, O’Neil, Courts, Husband, Thomson, Greig, Dalziel, Cargill, McCabe Subs: McCabe, Campbell, Ritchie, Jacobs, Allison
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