Leith Athletic progressed to the final of the SPORTSassist South East Region Cup this afternoon after prevailing against a dogged Shotts YMCA team.
With both teams performing respectably in their top division league campaigns, it was billed as being a tight affair, and right from the off this was proved to be the case.
Leith started sharply and were on the attack from the kick off, trying to penetrate the Shotts defence. It was real end to end stuff in the opening battles, with Shotts looking especially dangerous on the break, and having a solid penalty shout denied on the 2nd minute when forward Gary McGeouch was brought down just inside the 18 yard box.
The call was waved away, and Shotts were punished for not tracking back by an incisive Leith counter. Some fine play to evade a man by Ewan Stark allowed him to swing an inviting ball into the 6 yard box and it was caught sweetly by the head of the lurking Calum Smart to send it into the top corner past James Davidson, sending Leith one up in just 3 minutes.
After the early flurry of action, the game slowed down as Shotts tried to find a way to pull back their early deficit. A couple of probing through balls were intercepted well by the Leith defence as they began to get worked by the visitors.
Around 15 minutes in, a Leith move was broken down and again Shotts showed quick heels on the break, with lovely one touch play across the midfield opening up the hosts. A cross was blocked at the last, and Leith cleared their lines to relieve some of the pressure.
As if reacting to this phase of play, Leith began to muscle their way back into the game, sending tantalising balls down both wings, only to be scuppered by a stream of niggly challenges, with Kieran McColgan of Shotts being warned for persistent fouling.
In a game being largely fought out in the midfield, the next major chance saw Shotts’ Gary McGeouch take control of a throw on the left touchline and cut inside to set up Conner Matthews for a strike. Although the shot seemed to lack power, the swirling wind made it hard for Leith keeper Aaron King, who had to stretch to his bottom left and parry it away.
Shotts maintained their siege on the Leith box and it paid off when defender James Burt tangled legs with an opponent and a penalty was awarded.
Dale Baxter stepped up to take the spot kick and after a short delay, he coolly slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner, sending King the wrong way.
Leith responded with flurries of attacks, but were struggling to get behind a solid backline. Indeed, Shotts could have taken the lead 10 minutes before half time when Bradley Stokes sent in a looping ball which made it all the way to Sandy Robertson at the back post, only to be put off by Ross Aitchison.
Ewan Stark, who had been working tirelessly up top for Leith, sent in another great ball, causing confusion in the Shotts box, eventually ending up with a foul in the hosts’ favour right on the edge of the 18 yard line. Calum Smart failed to find a corner however, and in the end his effort didn’t trouble Davidson.
Just before the interval, Leith winger Lee Thomson skipped past two challenges and lay the ball into Burt, whose 20 yard effort was accurate, but not strong enough to hit the net.
A frenetic first half was brought to a close, with both teams looking good, Leith just edging the possession battle, but Shotts looking the more likely to score with their excellent break play.