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North Merchiston hosted Tynecastle on Meggetland's artificial pitch in a South East Region YFL Division 1 encounter. In a match where defences were on top a solitary strike from Clayton Crowther, midway through the first half, was enough to secure the points for Tynecastle.
For anyone familiar with the 1996 age group in the South East Region, this game needed no introduction. North Merchiston and Tynecastle had been battling it out for years, with the home side famed for their passing football and the visitors racking up trophies at local, regional and national level. This season, Merchi were optimistic of putting up a strong title challenge, and had begun with four wins on the bounce. Tynecastle were sitting top of the table, having won seven from eight, holding a six point lead over nearest challengers Musselburgh Windsor and Spartans.
The match kicked off in mild conditions with both sides pressing from the first whistle, reluctant to give their opponents any time on the ball. The first chance, with 5 minutes on the clock, fell to Sam Tulloch of Merchi who cut inside from the right and curled a shot narrowly wide of the target.
At the other end Azad Okan had started brightly, running at the North Merchiston defence at every opportunity. He produced a well executed half-volley into the back of the net on 10 minutes, but the referee's whistle had long gone for offside.
The match swayed back and forth, with neither team able to get a great deal of sustained possession. The first goal was evidently going to be huge and with 24 minutes on the clock, it fell to Tynecastle. A deflected effort from the edge of the area was spilled by Darren Mitchell and Clayton Crowther was quickest to react and fire the ball across goal, inches inside the post. Mitchell's uncharacteristic error was possibly down to a wrist injury that saw him leave the field of play, to be replaced by Jake MacDonald.
Far from being despondent, the home team rallied and set about searching for the equaliser. Fraser Eddington connected well with a volley, only to see it fly wide of the right hand post. The former Edina Hibs and Spartans striker was then denied by Cameron Tulloch, who saved a shot bound for the bottom right corner, a sign of things to come.
As the half came to an end, a saving tackle from Scott Siegel was required to keep Tynecastle's lead in tact, after Tulloch's clearance fell to the feet of a Merchiston forward.
Half Time: North Merchiston 0-1 Tynecastle
The second half soon developed into a pattern with North Merchiston in the ascendency, but an ultra organised Tynecastle defence barely giving an inch. The Tynecastle sixteen only featured seven of the squad who played in last year's Scottish Cup final, but the experienced triangle of Siegel and Bradd Campsie at centre half, with Tulloch behind them, was going to prove crucial in the minutes ahead.
North Merchiston striker Nathan Evans was beginning to find his feet and his sublime flick looked to have set Eddington clear, only for Siegel to come across with a crunching tackle. Evans then beat the offside trap and raced through on goal from the angle of the area, only to see his effort blocked by the onrushing Tulloch, who was off his line quick as a flash.
Eddington and Tulloch continued to trade blows. The Merchi forward stung the palms of the Tynecastle keeper with a half-volley from 25 yards on the 70 minute mark. And minutes later, Eddington raced clear but could only find the side netting, after the goalkeeper had once again narrowed the angle well.
Tynecastle had a chance to wrap up the points on the counter attack. The ball was swiftly moved to the right where Gavin Stevenson motored down the wing, before sliding a cross into the penalty area. Connor Brydon and Danny Baron appeared to be queueing up at the back post, but neither one could dig it out of their feet and MacDonald smothered the loose ball.
With seconds left on the clock there was one last moment of drama. North Merchiston won a last ditch corner, which was swung in invitingly towards the front post. Sam Tulloch flashed a header towards the Tynecastle goal, which was parried by his namesake between the sticks, before Campsie scrambled clear the loose ball, taking a knee to the face for his troubles.
The final whistle blew and Tynecastle celebrated maintaining their lead at the top of the table, whilst puncturing North Merchiston's unblemished record. The home side will point to the fact they were without a number of key players, and on the balance of play deserved to take something from the match. However, when you defend as heriocally as Tynecastle did, fortune can indeed favour the brave.
Full Time: North Merchiston 0-1 Tynecastle