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Elgin City press Championship Arbroath all the way in narrow Premier Sports Cup loss

Elgin City forward Kane Hester is challenged by Arbroath's James Craigen.
Elgin City forward Kane Hester is challenged by Arbroath's James Craigen.

League Two side Elgin City pushed Championship all the way before being edged out 1-0 in the Premier Sports Cup opening group game at Borough Briggs.

Luke Donnelly grabbed the goal which made all the difference to dash Elgin, who were within 15 minutes of a penalty shoot-out.

The Moray side had the edge in the opening 45 minutes, although a sparkling save from Daniel Hoban seconds before the break kept the scoreline blank.

Elgin striker Kane Hester and Arbroath midfielder Nicky Low collide.

Back-to-back third-place finishes in League Two last year and a settled squad has Gavin Price’s team in an upbeat mood for the 2021/22 campaign.

Ten days recently sitting it out due to positive cases in the camp was not ideal, but warm-up games against Ross County and Strathspey Thistle last week helped their preparation.

Arbroath took on a few lower ranked sides before losing to a strong Livingston side ahead of their trip north today.

These sides met in the groups last term at Gayfield, with Arbroath winning 3-0.

Elgin’s Kane Hester is stopped by Arbroath’s Colin Hamilton.

The Red Lichties qualified as runners-up behind Ross County, but were knocked out in the next round by virtue of a 3-1 defeat by Dunfermline Athletic.

Elgin notched wins against Stirling Albion and Montrose, which earned them third spot in Group D.

League campaigns remain the bigger picture

These sides, like many, will be using this part of the League Cup to sharpen up for their respective league campaigns.

The Moray men will be seeking to at the very least make the play-offs again or make a press for the League Two title.

Arbroath, the only part-timers now in the Championship, will seek to retain their place at that level, although you can never rule a Dick Campbell team out of troubling the group above them.

The headline news perhaps for Elgin supporters was that Hoban, a summer signing from Forfar Athletic, took his place between the post, with Thomas McHale on the bench.

Captain Euan Spark was sidelined, so in came Archie Macphee, who has signed on permanently from Formartine United. This is the former Ross County man’s fourth spell here.

There was a competitive debut too for Creag Little, the central defender Price tracked before snapping him up from Stenhousemuir.

Elgin’s Tony Dingwall tries to shake off Arbroath’s Scott Stewart.

Familiar names for the visitors

Like Elgin, the visitors have a settled side, with notable names including former Aberdeen and Dundee midfielder Nicky Low and former Nairn County keeper Callum Antell, who last term faced the Black and Whites for Edinburgh City.

There was an early scare for the hosts as Low’s set-piece was met by Dale Hilson, but his header came back off the post.

Elgin were also quick out the traps and, from a free-kick, the ball broke to Brian Cameron, whose deflected drive flashed just past the left post.

Rory MacEwan, who flew successfully into two tackles, drew a fine save from Antell as he hit a shot that had punch on 12 minutes.

Cameron and MacEwan had two swift chances for Elgin, but they could not quite make the breakthrough in a powerful start to the tie.

Black and Whites on the front foot

Elgin continued to win free-kicks within their opponents’ half, but the deliveries were not making an impact.

Hoban needed to be alert on 26 minutes to keep hold of a shot from Low as he finished off a well-worked move from the Angus team.

Daniel Hoban punches this chance clear under pressure from Arbroath.

MacEwan drilled an effort over the top after Cameron saw his close-range effort blocked by the body of Colin Hamilton then Kane Hester met a Russell Dingwall pass, but his shot lacked power to trouble Antell.

Elgin were knocking at the door

Yet, on the stroke of half-time, Little cleared a goal-bound shot from Bobby Linn, with the experienced forward sensing his opportunity.

There was still time for one more chance and Hoban superbly adjusted his movement to touch a net-bound Hamilton power-driver over the top then gathered the resultant corner.

Elgin City manager Gavin Price watches the action.

It was always going to be hard for Elgin to maintain the high level of energy in the second period and it was their opponents who were asking the questions in the early stages.

On the hour mark though, Elgin went ever so close when Cameron ran on to an Aiden Sopel pass and his low shot flashed back off the far post.

Hoban to the rescue again

At the other end, Hoban again denied Arbroath, this time with a diving save from a Scott Stewart effort.

David Gold then ensured it stayed goalless when he got a touch to deny Hester, who got on the end of an attack with pace from City.

With 15 minutes left, with the impact of subs Josh Peters, Conor O’Keefe and Fin Allen, Elgin found another gear and were getting in and around the box.

The thoughts on the penalty shoot-out straight after 90 minutes soon became the talker as the clock ticked down.

However, with 10 minutes left, Donnelly pounced in the box to meet a Hamilton ball knocked on from Linn’s corner and head it finally past Hoban.

Daniel Hoban made his competitive Elgin City debut.

That was to be the winner and Arbroath get off the mark with three points, with Elgin disappointed their sterling efforts didn’t earn them at least a point or two from a penalty shoot-out.

City now set for Tannadice

Elgin now head to Premiership hosts Dundee United on Wednesday, while Arbroath are at home to League One side East Fife.

United began their League Cup with a 1-0 win at newly-promoted League Two side Kelty Hearts on Friday night to get Group B started.

Elgin City: Hoban, Mailer, Macphee, McHardy, Little, MacEwan, Russell Dingwall, Cameron (Allen 70), Hester, Tony Dingwall (O’Keefe 62), Sopel (Peters 65). Substitutions: McHale (GK), Lawrence, Cooper.

Arbroath: Antell, Gold, Hamilton, Little, Stewart (Paterson 64), Craigen, Low (Clark 70), McKenna (Swankie 64), Hilson, Donnelly, Linn. Substitutions: Gaston (GK).

Referee: David Dickinson.