KELTY HEARTS have moved another step closer to winning League Two after seeing off a battling Albion Rovers this afternoon.
Kevin Thomson’s team maintained their 14-point lead over second-top Annan Athletic thanks to Nathan Austin and a double from Jamie Barjonas, with the latter’s second arriving late on after the visitors had cut a two-goal disadvantage in half.
There have been more convincing performances this season from Kevin Thomson’s team, but their target of winning a second successive promotion moves closer on the horizon.
Annan have seven games left and can finish on a maximum of 74 points, while Kelty – who play their game in hand at Albion on Wednesday – are already on 67.
Three wins will secure it for Kelty, but they endured a slightly more difficult afternoon than it otherwise should be after a strong first half.
Austin set the ball rolling after just 35 SECONDS by running in behind the visiting defence to score his SIXTH goal against Albion in three games against them, before Barjonas doubled the lead with his seventh of the campaign before half-time.
However, with just under an hour gone, Callum Wilson pulled a goal back for Albion, and the home side had to rely on Darren Jamieson to keep them ahead, thanks to one superb block in particular from Blair Malcolm.
However, with seven minutes to go, Barjonas completed his brace – and took his tally for the season to eight – and move his side to within three wins of the title.
There were three changes to the hosts’ starting eleven from Tuesday’s last-gasp victory at Stenhousemuir.
Austin, who came off the bench to net the winner, came in for Alfredo Agyeman, who dropped to the bench, as did Daniel Finlayson and skipper Michael Tidser, who were replaced by Dougie Hill and Thomas Reilly.
After that win at Ochilview, the message from the Kelty camp was simply to win every game until the season’s end – and they made a quick-fire start in trying to tick this one off the list.
With just 35 seconds on the clock, Austin broke forward from deep and, with no Rovers player able to stop him, he drove a fine angled shot beyond Cameron Binnie from 18 yards for his 21st goal of the season.
It was the perfect start for Thomson’s men and, although Kyle Doherty tried to respond quickly for Albion with a decent effort from range that sailed over, Max Kucheriavyi wasn’t too far away from his first goal in maroon.
The St Johnstone loanee had a shot blocked after good play from Hill, Kieran Ngwenya and Joe Cardle to find him, with Kelty soon dictating the play.
Not that the wee Rovers were without their moments; captain Sean Fagan sent a header goalwards that almost caused concern, while Charlie Reilly took advantage of a loose pass to fire not too far wide of the near post from the right-edge of the penalty area.
Barjonas tried his luck with a curling effort, which was comfortably wide of Binnie’s far post, while captain for the day, Kallum Higginbotham, and Reilly both tried their luck but couldn’t work Binnie.
However, nine minutes before the interval, the Albion keeper was beaten for a second time as Kelty doubled their advantage.
Higginbotham was involved, sliding a lovely pass through for Barjonas to run on to, and he did well to create half a yard of space as Fagan tried in vain to close him down before shooting across Binnie from around six yards.
Kieran Ngwenya, who enjoyed plenty of space to roam forward in the first half, came close to adding a third early in the second half with a rasping drive that Binnie did well to push over the bar, but just before the hour mark, it was the visitors who got the next goal.
It was a well-worked one, too, with Reilly moving away from several home shirts before finding Wilson inside the box, who coolly finished beyond Darren Jamieson.
Albion should have been level in the 66th minute when, moments before being substituted, Blair Malcolm, in the middle of the goal from around 10 yards, was somehow denied by a superb Jamieson stop when it looked easier to score.
That prompted home boss Thomson to send on Tidser for Kucheriavyi, while Finlayson was also called upon to replace Hill, who was hurt in amidst the Malcolm chance.
Albion were giving it a really good go in their quest for an equaliser, with Scott Roberts forcing Jamieson into further action, before Agyeman and Botti Biabi were sent on by the hosts in place of Cardle and Higginbotham.
Agyeman almost created a goal as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes with a superb burst down the right to move beyond his marker and cut the ball back to Ross Philp, whose well-struck shot was saved well by Binnie.
But, with seven minutes to go, Barjonas made the game safe as he completed his brace by slotting well under the helpless Albion keeper from 10 yards after playing a lovely one-two with Austin, moving Kelty ever closer to becoming League Two champions.
Match stats Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, Philp, Hill (Finlayson 69), O’Ware, Ngwenya, Reilly (McNab 85)Barjonas, Cardle (Biabi 74), Higginbotham (Agyeman 74), Kucheriavyi (Tidser 69), Austin.
Subs not used: Peggie, McNab, Donaldson.
Goals: Austin (1), Barjonas (36, 83).
Booked: Higginbotham (60), Hill (64).
Albion Rovers: Binnie, Lynas (Fernie 45), L.Wilson, McGowan, Fagan, Leslie, Roberts (Jack 77), Malcolm (D.Wilson 68), Doherty, C.Wilson, Reilly.
Subs not used: Leighton, Robinson, Wright, Stone.
Goal: C.Wilson (58).
Booked: Reilly (78).
Referee: Chris Fordyce.