A last second strike from Jacob Arnold-Smith earned the University of Stirling a valuable point away to their Edinburgh student counterparts.
Stirling found themselves behind at the break after a classy goal from Jack Beacher opened the scoring, but after a second-half period played largely in Edinburgh territory, the travelling University forced a dramatic leveller at the death.
Following Wednesday’s defeat to Nottingham in the semi-finals of the BUCS Championships, the East of Scotland title is now the main focus for Eddie May’s men, and this hard-earned point leaves Stirling nine points behind Spartans with five games in hand.
While the men in green and black dominated from the offset at Peffermill though, it was Edinburgh who had the better of the first-half chances, and the capital side will feel aggrieved to have not taken all three points.
Indeed, Beacher almost netted the opener against the run of play when his long-ranged shot drifted narrowly over early on, and centre-back Connor Willighan was left with his head in his hands after missing a free header at the back post ten minutes later.
The core of the Stirling side gave the team a continual majority of possession though, with quick passing, neat tackling and great movement from the players – particularly in their own half – but with a notable lack of attacking creativity in the final third, chances were few and far between for the East of Scotland champions.
The usually swift moving students seemed all too predictable up top, with a well set up Edinburgh defence forcing regular long-range crosses and shots that rarely troubled home keeper Mark Tait.
These facts were highlighted as it took Stirling a full 38 minutes to create their first chance, which came when Arnold-Smith met a corner unmarked just yards out from goal. The striker would nod his header directly at Tait though, allowing the capital number one to launch a quick counter-attack that would lead to the opener.
George Nikolaidis broke down the right-wing, racing past the chasing pack to cut inside and square the ball to Beacher inside the box. The Edinburgh frontman made no mistake in cannoning the ball home first-time, leaving Kevin Walker in limbo as his powerful effort flew straight into the top left corner.
After the break the match continued in a similar manner, with Stirling furthering their domination without any real purpose. The game should have been levelled with twenty minutes left though, after a drilled cross from Paul Sludden left substitute Craig Mason with a simple close-range finish. The former Welsh U19 international could only shoot wide though, and it seemed like an equaliser was becoming an unlikely prospect.
With the match being increasingly played in the Edinburgh half however, there was always a sense that Stirling could create something, regardless of their troubles in the final third, and that moment came deep into injury time.
After an initial corner had been thumped clear, Robert Pearson did well to loft the ball back into the mix, from where Creag Robertson sent Arnold-Smith through on goal with a flick into the area.
With the officials ignoring suspicions of offside, for which the Edinburgh defence appealed fiercely, Arnold-Smith was able to force the ball past Mark Tait to secure a hard-fought draw for the home side that can be seen as one point gained rather two lost for the Stirling students.
While the game may be looked back on as a vital point towards the title hopes of the University first team, Eddie May’s men will have to up their game sizably if they are to avoid a strenuous fight to retain their East of Scotland crown.
Stirling’s next game is a home league game against Civil Service Strollers. The game takes place on Saturday 16th March, at the Gannochy Sports Centre, with a 2:30pm kick off.
Report by Stuart Kenny