Kelty Hearts 1 Linfield 1, SPFL Trust Trophy, fourth round. Kelty Hearts win 5-4 on penalties.
KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM’S late equaliser allowed Nathan Austin to be Kelty Hearts’ penalty shoot-out hero in a dramatic SPFL Trust Trophy tie with Linfield.
The experienced attacking midfielder’s fine low strike, with six minutes to go, cancelled out Chris McKee’s penalty late in the first half for Linfield, taking the tie to spot-kicks.
After Higginbotham and Jimmy Callacher both missed penalties, and both teams’ were successful in their other four, Darren Jamieson’s save from Conor Pepper gave substitute, Nathan Austin, the opportunity to finish superbly to send Kelty through 5-4 on penalties.
In the last eight, they will join neighbours and League One rivals, Dunfermline; Dundee; Queen of the South; Clyde; Hamilton; Queen’s Park; and Raith Rovers.
Alfredo Agyeman had Kelty’s best opportunity outwith their goal, forcing David Walsh in the Blues’ goal into a smart parry before neither Higginbotham or Jamie Barjonas could find a way through from the rebound, but they were largely frustrated by the Northern Irish side.
McKee’s penalty, after a foul by Lewis Martin on Eetu Vertainen, handed the visitors the initiative and, although the hosts struggled for periods to find inspiration to respond, Higginbotham’s individual brilliance provided it.
It’s a first quarter-final in this competition for Kelty, whilst Linfield’s exit means there are no non-Scottish sides left in the competition.
For the hosts’ second meeting with cross-border opposition in this tournament – they played English National League Solihull Moors at home in 2019 – John Potter made just one change to the team that defeated Peterhead last weekend.
Cammy Logan dropped out at right back, with Lewis Martin coming in, while the visiting side contained a number of familiar names.
They included St Johnstone loanee, Vertainen; former Kelty loan player, Daniel Finlayson; ex-Inverness and Morton man, Pepper; and former Aberdeen, Alloa Athletic and Ayr United player, Sam Roscoe.
Linfield enjoyed much of the early possession but, when the first slight sight of goal arrived in 13 minutes, it was for Kelty’s Reis Peggie, who saw a shot blocked well after he had a throw returned to him by Higginbotham.
There was a brief moment of excitement in the 27th minute, when Tam O’Ware took exception to a tackle on him, which sparked a bit of shoving that was quickly calmed down, and ended with a booking for Finlayson, but the game failed to flicker into life for the first half an hour.
Then, suddenly, Kelty created the game’s best opportunity.
Alfredo Agyeman was sent scampering clear down the right and, after his pace and power took him into the box, he saw a shot parried by Linfield keeper, David Walsh.
After Higginbotham couldn’t make hay on the follow-up, the ball fell for Barjonas, whose effort was blocked at the near post.
At the other end, McKee flicked a header wide of goal from Cameron Palmer’s centre, while Vertainen had a shot blocked.
In the final five minutes of the half, Kelty suffered a blow when centre back O’Ware, was forced off with an injury, with Robbie McNab replacing him, as Martin moved infield to the middle of the back four.
However, a minute from the break, Martin was the guilty party as Linfield were awarded a spot-kick.
He and Vertainen chased a loose ball and, as the home defender slid to make the tackle, referee, Craig Napier, adjudged him to have fouled his opponent.
McKee stepped up and confidently rolled the ball past Jamieson in the Kelty goal, sparking celebrations in the away end that saw some smoke bombs thrown onto the park.
Both sides made a substitution at half-time; Nathan Austin replaced Peggie for Kelty, with Michael Newberry coming on for Jamie Mulgrew for Linfield, and the home side tried immediately to get back into it when Barjonas fired a shot into the side netting.
Higginbotham fired a hopeful half volley from distance well over the top, while Austin had an effort blocked, but Linfield had a great chance to double their lead when Matthew Clarke was picked out unmarked at the far post.
Thankfully for the hosts, Jamieson was there to block with his feet.
Joe Cardle was sent on with just over 20 minutes to go by home boss Potter, which came after there were loud appeals from Kelty for a penalty as Jordon Forster saw a header from a corner blocked, but the Belfast visitors continued to look comfortable.
Substitute, Liam McStravick, couldn’t beat Jamieson at his near post after his run into the box was found, while Nicky Low’s attempt to bring Kelty an equaliser finished too high over the bar from a free-kick.
Just as it looked like the hosts were going to be frustrated, one of their most experienced and talismanic players stepped up.
Higginbotham, after receiving the ball, turned away from his opponent before, from around 20 yards, sent a quite a superb, low, driven strike into the bottom corner of the net for the equaliser.
That took the match to penalties and, after Jimmy Callacher and Higginbotham both missed, the other four penalties from both teams were successful, taking it to sudden death.
After Pepper’s effort was saved, Austin stepped up and scored in style to take Kelty through.
Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, Martin, Forster, O’Ware (McNab 40), Peggie (Austin 45), Lyon, Low, Tidser (Cardle 68), Barjonas, Higginbotham, Agyeman.
Subs not used: Cameron, Kamgna Jnr, Doherty, Campbell.
Goal: Higginbotham (84).
Booked: Martin (44).
Linfield: Walsh, Pepper, Finlayson, Callacher, Roscoe, Clarke (Quinn 68), Palmer, McClean, Mulgrew (Newberry 45), Vertainen (McStravick 71), McKee (Devine 68).
Subs not used: Williamson, McDaid, Johns.
Goal: McKee (44, pen).
Booked: Finlayson (27), Roscoe (61).