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North Merchiston overcame league rivals Leith Athletic with a dominant second half display, despite playing almost half an hour of the match with only ten men, to win 5-2 at Meggetland.
The home side were very impressive for long spells in this South East Region Cup quarter final and proved why they are above the away side in South East Region Division 1 with some slick passing on a damp surface, as the pinned Leith back.
Leith had ‘keeper Gavin Stewart to thank for keeping the score line fairly respectable with a number of superb saves to deny the Merchiston attack who looked threatening every time they forayed into the oppositions half.
Early pressure from Merchiston had the away side on the back foot from kick off as they went in the hunt for an opening goal. However, it was Leith who had the first real chance of the match. Brandon Meikle did well to hold up the ball before laying off to Shaun Miller who couldn’t get enough power on the shot to test out Darren Mitchell in between the sticks for Merchiston.
Miller had a chance of his own soon after to open the scoring. A great ball over the Merchie defence form left back Andrew Bird found Dylan Tait who did well to hold off his marker before laying off Miller on the edge of the area but he fired just over the bar.
Merchie had chances of their own in an entertaining opening quarter with both teams determined to put themselves in the ascendancy as the game flowed back and forth. Leith were inviting pressure on themselves at times as they lay deep in defence, but this only forced the home side to shoot from range. Nick Mortimer tried his luck from around the 25 yard mark but his shot just went over the bar.
The home side were starting to carve out more and more chances with as they pinned Leith back and were reliant on Stewart keeping the scores level. Jake MacDonald found space in the Leith penalty area and was able to get a free header away after delivery from the right by Sam Tulloch, but Stewart somehow clawed it out.
A minute later though and the home side got a deserved opening goal. Joe Turner-Law showed excellent composure to fire into Stewart’s bottom left hand corner after a pass from deep split open the Leith defence.
Conceding a goal can often spur on the losing side to get chances of their own and so it proved with Meikle’s effort smacking off the post with Mitchell helpless just minutes later.
Leith were finding it difficult to find a killer pass which was a detriment to their neat build up play. The tall Merchie defence were able to cope well with lone striker Tait as Calum Windram and Ben Brigain marshalled their side tremendously from the back.
With Leith pushing players from midfield forward in search of an equaliser, they were leaving themselves wide open at the back. Nathan Evans broke upfield for the home side from a Leith corner but he wasn’t able to get his shot away after he cut in from the left with a great block from an Athletic defender preventing the shot from getting on target.
Half Time: North Merchiston 1-0 Leith Athletic
The second half had barely started and the home side had doubled their advantage, with Turner-Law grabbing his second of the afternoon, side footing into the net after a through ball found its way to the big striker.
The home side were rampant as they attempted to get themselves further ahead. Evans, who was a constant threat for the home side with his pace and delivery, flashed a ball across goal but Anton Dowds couldn’t find the required touch.
Along with Evans, Callum Baptie and Tulloch were the standouts for Merchiston, with the trio dominating the midfield area as they caused constant problems for Leith with their direct running and inch perfect passing.
Midway through the second half Merchiston found themselves down to ten men after ‘keeper Mitchell was given a straight red card after he took out Meikle who had knocked it past him and was certain to score. Surprisingly though to the dismay of the Athletic support, the referee pointed for a free kick when it appeared the challenge had taken place inside the box.
Leith were unable to take advantage of the free kick, positioned on the edge of the area, with captain Max Ketchen blazing over the bar after a lay off.
The away side did pull a goal back though to make it 2-1 with 20 minutes left, with a superb finish from Miller who lobbed the stand-in keeper for the home side. His effort seemed to be heading over the bar but it somehow dipped under the bar at the last minute.
With the prospect of Athletic finding an equaliser to possibly take the tie to extra time, Merchie, instead of sitting back and inviting pressure onto themselves, went in search of adding to their lead.
Substitute Cameron Stokes certainly staked a claim for a starting spot with a fantastic run and effort from the left flank. He showed neat footwork down the left to cut inside, past two Leith defenders before unleashing a powerful drive past Stewart.
Stewart had kept the home side at bay for long spells, but incessant pressure form Merchiston was finally telling. He fumbled a cross at his near post from Mortimer and Evans was on hand to put his side 4-1 up.
Merchie made it five soon after, Gavin Birrell with the goal at the second attempt after the first came back off the post before Leith got a second of the afternoon after Daniel Brennan got his foot on the ball amid a scramble in the box.
North Merchiston advance into the semi-finals of the South East Region Cup and face a tough test against Tynecastle or Hutchison Vale, after their match was called off this weekend.
Full Time: North Merchiston 5-2 Leith Athletic
|Donald MacDonald, coach of North Merchiston, said: "I'm pleased with most of the performance, we played some lovely football and scored some good goals. I'm disappointed we got a player sent off though."
|John Gavin, coach of Leith Athletic, said: "I thought when we got it back to 2-1, we still had a chance, but things went against us. The score maybe flattered them, but they are a very good side."