Jamie Longworth’s injury-time goal for East Kilbride took some of the gloss off an impressive display from Highland League champions Cove Rangers.
First-half goals from Harry Milne and Scott Ross looked to have given Cove a major advantage in the SPFL pyramid play-off semi-final ahead of this weekend’s second leg.
But the game ended on a sour note for Cove with Longworth’s 15-yard strike in the third minute of injury time giving the Lowland League champions the belief they are not out of the tie just yet. –
Man of the match Daniel Park, who assisted both Cove goals with pinpoint corner kick deliveries, said: “It was disappointing to lose an injury-time goal after being 2-0 up for so long in the game, but East Kilbride are a good side and if you had offered us a 2-1 win before the game we would definitely have taken it.
“A 2-1 win is a good result to take back home and we will see what we can do back at Balmoral Stadium next weekend.
“With boys like Harry Milne and Scott Ross in the box you know that if you can just hang a corner kick up there they will eventually get on the end of it.”
Cove, who travelled down on Friday and stayed in nearby Bothwell the night before the game, were at full strength, leaving the experienced trio of club captain Eric Watson, fellow defender Alan Redford and midfielder Jordon Brown on the bench.
Before the game there was a minute’s applause for Celtic legend Billy McNeill who died on Monday, aged 79.
Cove broke the deadlock in the third minute when Park’s corner kick picked out Milne totally unmarked and his powerful downward header gave Willie Muir in the Kilby goal no chance.
East Kilbride almost levelled in the 10th minute when a surging run from Paul Woods ended with Stuart McKenzie in the Cove goal sticking out a foot to brilliantly divert the midfielder’s shot for a fruitless corner.
Cove doubled their lead in the 35th minute when another inch-perfect Park corner found Ross unmarked eight yards out and his towering header flew past the helpless Muir and into the goal. Four minutes from the break a superb run from deep by Blair Yule ended with the ex-Arbroath midfielder pulling his 12 yard drive wide of the target with only keeper Muir to beat. Eight minutes after the restart, Cove stopper McKenzie did well to dive and smother a Scott Stevenson effort from just inside the box.
In the 55th minute, from another superb Park corner kick, Milne hit the top of the crossbar with a back-post header.
Five minutes later, from yet another brilliantly flighted Park corner, Ross headed a yard wide of the target as Cove looked to enhance their advantage.
But in the third minute of stoppage time, East Kilbride grabbed a lifeline when substitute Longworth’s grounder from 15 yards found a way past McKenzie.
Kilby captain Craig Malcolm said: “I don’t think we can play much worse than we did today so that was a massive goal for us with virtually the last kick of the game.
“Jamie Longworth came on and showed his experience and his quality, he took a wee touch and showed great composure with a tremendous finish to get us right back in the tie.”