MUSSELBURGH Athletic were the only East Lothian junior outfit satisfied with the outcome of Saturday’s fixtures, the Olive Bank men consolidating their position at the top of the Premier League table with a hard-fought 2-0 derby win at home to Tranent Juniors.

Tranent’s disappointment at losing was matched by that of Dunbar United, who after their Scottish Junior Cup exit a week earlier suffered their first league defeat in almost three months when they went down to Tayport at New Countess Park.

Haddington Athletic, like Musselburgh before them, had to endure another wasted Saturday on account of the condition of Hurlford United’s Blair Park pitch – a Saturday-morning inspection put paid to their Scottish Junior Cup fourth-round tie for a second time; they must try for a third time this week.

While the Hi Hi can only hope for drier weather to help their fixture backlog cause, Musselburgh and Dunbar both have scope to improve their respective league placings – Burgh can further extend their lead at the top of the Premier League if they overcome St Andrews United at Olive Bank, while Dunbar travel north to take on Kirriemuir Thistles. Tranent take a break from league matters when they travel to meet Lochgelly Albert in a Fife & Lothians Cup second-round tie.


Musselburgh Athletic 2

Tranent Juniors 0

A FORTNIGHT on from their first Premier League defeat of the season at Kirriemuir Thistle, Musselburgh were back in action on Saturday when Tranent Juniors paid their first league visit to Olive Bank in 17 years.

Boss Calvin Shand, who along with assistant Kevin McDonald has extended his contract with the club, brought in three faces not in the picture a fortnight earlier. In goal was 36-year-old veteran Ryan McGurk, goalkeeping coach, with Ally Adams still suspended and Asher Tufail injured, while there was a starting place for newly-signed midfielder Ryan Gay, 32, who recently had a short spell at Tranent after more than a decade’s service to Penicuik Athletic. Kai Wilson was on the substitutes’ bench in his first outing in Musselburgh colours.

The visitors haven’t been far from the headlines in recent weeks and although 11 places separated them in the table Burgh knew they faced a tough 90 minutes against local rivals desperate to return to winning ways – striker Ryan McCallum, who had two spells at Olive Bank, was a Tranent debutant.

The opposition were first to show in attack, with Paterson not far off target. The same player came close again just four minutes in, sending a clear message of intent to the Burgh players. McGurk used all his experience to bring off a save from Fiddler when the Tranent youngster looked likely to open the scoring, then Miller headed wide as his side sought to make the most of their pressure.

Burgh’s first opening came in the ninth minute when a great run from Conor Thomson allowed him to set up new man Gay for a shot but he couldn’t keep the ball down, comfortably clearing the bar.

As the first half wore on the effect of the conditions on both teams became increasingly clear, a cold swirling wind making controlled football difficult. After Matti King headed past when scoring looked easier, there was little incident to excite the fans on the terracing.

Towards the end of the first half excitement levels increased again and in the 38th minute another dangerous run from Thomson yielded the positive of a corner, from which Brad Donaldson almost put the hosts ahead but Fiddler saved the day, clearing off the line. It hadn’t been a classic 45 minutes by any stretch of the imagination but both teams’ followers had cause enough to be satisfied with their favourites’ effort and commitment.

The wind direction favoured Musselburgh after the break but again Tranent were first to test the opposing keeper, McGurk managing to grab Miler’s effort from distance. King then came very close, missing the target by a whisker, but Burgh had to wait only until the 51st minute for the breakthrough – Gay delivered a teasing free-kick across the face of goal which Tranent defender Todd, in attempting to clear, directed into his own net.

Tranent battled back and Devlin looked sure to level but pulled his shot just wide, then McGurk brought off a great save from Paterson. The Belters looked threatening, with Devlin and Miller again unlucky not to draw them level, fortune favouring Musselburgh.

Just past the midway point in the half, Ewan Ralton came off the Burgh bench to replace Bradley Whyte and the substitute had an immediate impact with a great run forward to set up Thomson, who forced a fine save from Tranent keeper Horne. Another home substitute, Wilson this time, could have added Burgh’s second 10 minutes from the end, just a short time after coming on for his debut in place of fellow newcomer Gay – Horne, however, was equal to his shot.

Another near thing from Devlin kept Tranent hopes alive with time running out but they were fortunate a minute later not to concede a second own goal, Fairnie’s header going just over the bar. Tranent kept pressing but Burgh delivered a killer second goal inside injury time – following a series of corners, Burgh cleared the ball to the halfway line where Fiddler was waiting to return it to the penalty area; the unfortunate youngster was, however, robbed of possession by Ralton, who ran 50 yards towards goal before slipping the ball past Horne, sending Burgh 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

A great three points from a tough 90 minutes in the end for Musselburgh, for whom things look increasingly promising as far as their desired quick return to Superleague football goes. This Saturday they have another home Premier League fixture, third-placed St Andrews United their visitors. Burgh have already beaten the Saints twice this season and inevitably start as favourites to complete the treble.


Musselburgh Athletic 2

Tranent Juniors 0

LIKE a great many other clubs, Tranent hadn’t enjoyed much competitive action over a near-two-month period and all involved at Foresters Park were delighted to once more see their team playing meaningful football.

Since his first and only competitive match in charge, a desperately disappointing 5-1 home defeat on January 6 at Dunbar United’s hands, Tranent boss Max Christie had bolstered his playing squad with the recruitment of two strikers, Jamie Devlin from Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale and Ryan McCallum from Penicuik Athletic, both of whom were handed their debuts -– young goalkeeper Craig Kinnear, another new face, was on the bench. There was, though, no place for Ian Black, caught up in bureaucratic red tape – it remains to be seen if the matter can be resolved in the near future (see story right).

Despite the frustration surrounding Black’s situation, the sizeable Tranent contingent on the Olive Bank terraces were eager to see if their team could dent Musselburgh’s title hopes. The Burgh squad contained four players who have represented Tranent in the past – Chris Gray, debutant Ryan Gay, plus veterans Matti King and Jackie Myles.

Top scorer Kayne Paterson had the game’s first scoring opportunity but hit his shot a little wide, a scenario repeated on four minutes after he had been set up by Lloyd Fiddler. The young midfield man then tried for goal himself but from a good position he was denied a memorable goal by veteran keeper McGurk.

Early proceedings were encouraging for the Tranent management team and the supporters, who saw Guy Kerr head wide from a Miller corner. New striker Devlin looked lively and he wasn’t far away with a 16th-minute shot when Kerr found him with a cross – at the other end shortly afterwards, King headed wide when he ought to have done better.

Conditions were far from ideal for good football, with a cold wind swirling around the arena. With eight minutes left until half-time a free-kick just eluded Kerr in a good position – Tranent survived a scare at the other end not long afterwards, with Fiddler in the right place at the right time to clear Donaldson’s close-range effort off the line.

Just before half-time McCallum had an opportunity to mark his Tranent debut with a goal against one of his former clubs but his shot lacked true conviction and McGurk made a routine save, ensuring the first 45 minutes ended goalless.

Though playing against the wind after the break, Tranent again were first to try for goal and Miller forced McGurk to catch the ball under his crossbar with a shot from way outside the box. King then came close for Musselburgh and on 51 minutes Burgh went in front when Jamie Todd headed into his own net in attempting to direct the ball in the other direction when former team-mate Gay sent a threatening free-kick into the penalty area.

A chance to equalise followed within a couple of minutes, Miller setting up Devlin, but the new man put his angled shot inches wide. McCallum’s strength aided him in heading the ball down for Paterson as Tranent kept up the pressure but a great save from McGurk kept the Burgh lead intact. At this stage in proceedings the Belters looked well worthy of a goal.

Just beyond the midway point in the second half Dougie Horne produced a good save to prevent Thomson doubling the home lead. Horne was again called into action 10 minutes from time to prevent a debut goal for Burgh sub Wilson and with the outcome still very much in the balance there followed a fairly intense finale. Devlin headed past the post on 84 minutes, then at the other end there was a narrow escape when the ball just cleared the bar, ensuring Michael Fairnie avoided the unwanted credit for a second own goal.

With nothing to lose, Tranent pressed forward in greater numbers as the 90-minute mark approached and with a little better fortune could have rescued a point. As it was, the last of a series of corner kicks was cleared by the home defence in injury time as far only as Fiddler on the halfway line. The young midfielder, who had enjoyed a fine game, was dispossessed by Burgh sub Ralton, who ran half the length of the park before sticking the ball beyond Horne to seal victory.

In the aftermath, Tranent boss Christie was bullish as to the team’s prospects going forward, having been greatly encouraged by much of what he had witnessed – with a little more clinical finishing they might well have taken something from the league leaders.

As far as the Premier League goes, Tranent can only now aim to finish as high up the table as possible, but this Saturday they are set to take a break from such pressures when they travel to meet South Division outfit Lochgelly Albert in a Fife & Lothians Cup second-round tie. Gardiners Park is never an easy venue for visiting teams but Tranent should have it in them to end their recent losing streak.


Hurlford United P

Haddington Athletic P

SHOULD local junior football fans reflect at some future date on East Lothian clubs’ efforts in the 2017/18 Scottish Junior Cup it’s likely Blair Park will crop up – said venue being the home ground of the competition’s 2014 winners Hurlford United.

Disposing of Musselburgh Athletic at the third-round stage two days before Christmas, Hurlford earned another home tie against the Hi Hi in the fourth round, scheduled to be played on January 20. The fact the Musselburgh tie was postponed no fewer than four times escaped the attention of no one at Millfield, and consequently there was no surprise when the tie was called off a fortnight ago, especially considering the snow and low temperatures of the preceding days.

The rate at which games have been postponed across all competitions over the past couple of months must give even the most ardent traditionalist cause to consider whether it’s wise not to at least consider a shift in the football season’s scheduling – such matters won’t, though, be addressed urgently in the notoriously conservative Scottish football environment.

As it was, word from Hurlford last Wednesday gave cause for concern, heavy rain having fallen for hours – Friday’s update gave rise to tentative optimism, the pitch then reportedly playable, but the overnight forecast for yet more rain proved accurate and so it came to pass that the tie was postponed for a second time following a cursory inspection just before 9am.

This second postponement resulted in the increasingly frustrated Haddington players spending their time training on Portobello beach instead of travelling to Ayrshire – with just one competitive fixture fulfilled in 10 weeks, repeat postponements are the bane of their football lives, though it’s recognised many others are similarly affected.

The tie is now of course rescheduled for this Saturday, and Hi Hi’s boss Joe Hamill and his players can only hope it goes ahead – they were previously scheduled to visit Edinburgh United and, keen to avoid another inactive Saturday, enquriies were made at the beginning of this week as to the viability of that game being played should Blair Park again prove unplayble. If it’s the case pitch problems again intervene there must be a strong possibility the SJFA will switch the tie to a neutral venue.

With at least 18 games still left to play, everyone at Millfield is eager to return to normality sooner rather than later.

They were in action on Tuesday evening when Berwick Rangers’ under-20 team provided friendly opposition at Whittingehame Drive – it was expected striker Stephen Scott would feature after signing on loan from Newtongrange Star until the end of the season. The 19-year-old was previously part of Berwick’s development squad and spent time on loan at Penicuik Athletic in the Superleague last season.

Another temporary change to the playing squad sees 20-year-old Lewis Temple go out on loan to Edinburgh United – signed from Spartans Youth in the close season, Temple has impressed with the intelligence of his play in his few competitive outings and has recently extended his contract until the end of next season, but it’s felt his development will benefit from the possibility of more regular outings with the South Division side.


Dunbar United 1 Tayport 2

THE Seasiders’ Scottish Junior Cup adventure having ended a week earlier with a 6-2 defeat at Irvine Meadow, they returned to Premier League action on Saturday with a home game against Tayport.

Unbeaten in the league since early November and with six points from a possible six in 2018, Geoff Jones’ men were looking to bolster their position in the top half of the table. When they had travelled to Tayport in August for the first ever league meeting between the pair they had held a 2-1 lead until late in the game, only to suffer a last-gasp capitulation. Liam McCathie returned in place of John Johnstone in goal, while Chris Moffat came in for Zach Szemis at the back – the influential Chris King was out through suspension.

Even before the game kicked off it was plain the contest would be greatly influenced by very strong winds. Tayport had a real opportunity to claim the first goal inside the opening minute but McCathie brought off a good stop from Ireland before Grant Thomson cleared the ball to safety. Just a few minutes on, Ireland again posed problems and when Thomson caught him inside the penalty area the referee pointed to the penalty spot; McCathie, though, was again the home hero, stretching himself fully to save Tulleth’s spot kick.

Ireland was proving highly effective for the Port and twice more came close to opening the scoring but their opener when it came in the 17th minute was slightly fortuitous, Tulleth’s dipping free-kick striking Keith Tait en route to the back of the net.

Dunbar had barely begun to come to terms with the loss of this goal when they found themselves two down barely a minute later – Tulleth took possession just inside the Seasiders’ half and took a chance in lobbing the ball from distance over McCathie, who had come off his line, and into the net.

Looking for a way back into things, Dunbar had a half-hearted claim for a penalty ignored after a Kevin Motion free-kick appeared to hit a Tayport player’s arm in the penalty area. Kieran Ingram wasn’t far away with an 18-yard effort and Dean Ballantyne at the back post brought out a great save from Sorley in the Port goal when he got on the end of a Motion corner.

Ingram didn’t complete the first half, having to leave the field with an eye injury after a collision with an opponent, and was replaced by 19-year-old debutant Jamie Chapman, on loan from Berwick Rangers. Tayport held their two-goal lead until the interval.

The second half wasn’t quite two minutes old when Dunbar were thrown a lifeline – Sam Young’s cross eluded skipper Steven Tait but the ball came off the chest of Tayport’s Gray and rolled over the line to halve the deficit.

The home goal was fortunate to survive a couple of scares as the visitors looked to restore their two-goal lead before the Seasiders began to enjoy their best spell of the game. Darren Handling had his shot not been blocked by a defender and the same man was again unlucky when another strike forced Sorley into an excellent save. Sorley was again in action when he kept out Steven Tait’s effort.

As full time neared, Fraser McLaren, on from the bench after recovery from an injury, rounded the goalkeeper but was forced wide before he could capitalise. In the last minute a Motion free-kick was cleared away – that was Dunbar’s last chance, and so Tayport became the first team to do the Premier League double over them.

Originally scheduled to face Arniston Rangers in Midlothian, Dunbar instead now journey north to face Kirriemuir Thistle. A round-trip of 230 miles awaits the travelling party, well used to long journeys after four away ties this season in the Scottish Junior Cup.

Kirriemuir were 1-0 winners at New Countess Park earlier in the season and, fighting to avoid an immediate return to the North Division, they will prove tough opposition, with their survival hopes boosted by their recent win over league leaders Musselburgh Athletic.