By John Turnbull at Ainslie Park
Despite almost reeling The Spartans in from 3-0 down on Saturday, the University of Stirling couldn’t get level, and a 4-2 defeat meant an exit from the South Challenge Cup.
It was another strong start for the hosts, who were firmly ahead after 57 minutes, but Calum Rae and James Berry struck within six minutes to pull Stirling back into the game.
As the Uni looked for an equalizer, The Spartans punished Stirling again when Kieran Watson bundled in the game’s final goal to seal a quarter-final spot.
Head coach Chris Geddes said: “[it was a] disappointing result, a scrappy game at times, but Spartans showed why they are top of the Lowland League.
“We had a game plan for the first half, and it was working to an extent, even though we were 2-0 down – we were frustrating them to a lot of long balls and flick-ons.
“I think second half, we were the better team, but Spartans were always up. If we had kept it at 3-2 for a bit longer, it might’ve been different… but they saw it out like a top team.
“No complaints from me, I just want to praise my players in terms of the run they’re on and have been on.
“That’s six games in this competition and a round further than last year. It was game 59 of the season, so it’s been really impressive, but today we came up against a top side.”
Stirling kept The Spartans at bay for longer than the previous encounter between the two sides, but the Lowland League leaders struck first after 16 minutes.
Cameron McKinley and Archie Munro had shots saved, but straight up the other end The Spartans were awarded a penalty after Jamie Dishington was fouled in the box.
Experienced striker Blair Henderson made no mistake from the spot and then set up Cammy Russell to score a second ten minutes later.
After another positive period of attacking play for Stirling, The Spartans stole possession and countered with Russell on hand to stick the ball away.
It never felt like the tie was settled as Stirling continued to apply pressure and after a strong start to the second half, were dealt another blow.
Henderson and Russell combined again, and the former’s low cross deflected into the Stirling goal off an unfortunate Matty Burrows clearance.
Stirling somehow went again, though, and was finally rewarded with two goals in three minutes on the hour mark to cut the lead to a single goal.
Having shown enough in the final third to deserve a goal, the ball bounced kindly to Rae in the box who volleyed home the first.
Straight from kick-off, Stirling won a corner, and it was placed right on Spartans goalkeeper Blair Carswell, and the ball found its way into the net.
Just as Stirling felt back in the game, there was more confusion from the corner.
This time it was Russell’s set-piece that was bundled in by Watson, and that would be the last decisive action of the tie.
The Spartans: Carswell, Watson, Allan, Waugh, Tapping, Whyte, Dishington, Jones, Henderson, Armstrong, Russell
University of Stirling: Fry, Thompson (Maciver-Redwood 45), Burrows, Service, Lavery, Berry, Heal, Jarvis, McKinley (McAninch 80), Stokes, Munro (Rae 45)