Kelty Hearts boss Barry Ferguson insists his side’s history-making promotion to the SPFL is up there as one of the greatest achievements in his career.
Ferguson watched on in delight as skipper Michael Tidser netted a dramatic late winner to seal a 3-1 aggregate win for Kelty with both sides finishing the game on ten men.
The win secures Kelty’s place in League Two just four years after they gave up Junior football to have a crack at making an impact on the senior game.
And Ferguson, who collected 16 winners medals in a glittering playing career with Rangers, Birmingham and Blackburn claims Kelty’s feat is on a par with his previous achievements.
“That has to be right up there with everything I’ve done in my career,” said Ferguson.
“I know people will be seeing this and thinking ‘Is he having a laugh?’
“Yes it’s at a different level but I’ve seen the work that has gone in here and I see shah this means to these players and this club.
“I was given a remit to get this club up in three years and I’ve achieved that.
“I didn’t even think it was going to happen four weeks ago.
“We were denied the right to train after being declared Lowland League champions and had to wait to see if the games would even be played.
“That makes it all the more remarkable.
“I don’t know what happens next for the club. I’m not even thinking about that and I just want to enjoy the moment.
“I have a lot of thinking to do and the club will have their own thoughts but let’s just salute the players because they would run through brick walls for me. What an achievement.”
I’m at @BrechinCityFC v @KeltyHeartsFC The Angus side hope to retain a league status gained 98 years ago as the Fifers try to create history & become an SPFL side, replacing the infamous Glebe Park hedge with their own in @spfl League 2. Follow @thecouriersport for #HedgeWars pic.twitter.com/GXOUvtQL8T
— Ewan Smith (@ewansmithpr) May 23, 2021
Before the game Ferguson summed up the task ahead perfectly.
He said Brechin were fighting to stay in the SPFL while his players were battling to ‘create a piece of history.’
City have been an established senior league club since 1923, having been formed 17 years earlier, and the prospect of dropping into the Highland League was almost unthinkable for the Angus side.
Anything less than a victory would seal City’s fate and put them on a long, hard road back to the SPFL with the prospect of a 480-mile round trip to Wick Academy becoming a reality.
For 46-year-old Kelty, the game had entirely different rewards.
They only became eligible to join the senior ranks in December 2017 and, bankrolled by Dean McKenzie, have developed ambitious plans to achieve their goal of joining the SPFL.
Their squad is littered with SPFL experience, including former Dunfermline and Kilmarnock star Kallum Higginbotham.
This was a tie he had waited over 12 months on after Brechin initially avoided the pyramid play-offs as the 2019-20 League 2 season was curtailed due to Covid-19.
And he had a vast array of firepower at his disposal with former East Fife and Inverness star Nathan Austin leading the line – having netted a staggering 37 goals in 25 games last year.
The odds were stacked firmly in Kelty’s favour but Brechin, who battled bravely to keep the deficit to just one goal going into this, weren’t going to go down without a flight.
They were back by what player-boss Michael Paton described as their “12 man” with 250 fans packing into Glebe Park for the first time in 14 months.
The fans made a big difference to City who looked far more up for this game than they did in the 2-1 defeat at New Central Park.
This was possibly the most important 90 minutes in City’s history and home players looked like there was was no way they were going down without a fight.
But while they pressed for the opener to level the tie, they had to be acutely aware of the enormous threat Kelty offered on the break.
And the visitors threatened early on as Higginbotham peeled off his marker only for his effort to be charged down by Jonathan Page.
Kelty then forced a number of set pieces without making any real impact on the Brechin goal.
City had the game’s first real chance as Bobby Barr’s short corner to Paton set the City manager up for a curling 20 yard strike that bounced inches wide.
This time Barr found space on the edge of the box to get his shot off with Jamieson making a decisive block.
At the other end City keeper David Hutton produced heroics to get down to prevent a downward Dougie Hill header from crossing the line.
Then came the moment that Brechin feared could wreck their chances as on loan Rangers striker Chris McKee was shown a straight red card for foul and abusive langage after nailing Dylan Easton.
And Kelty almost capitalised with a goal seconds after the restart with Austin breaking clear only to drive off the post from ten yards.
Austin was causing Brechin endless problems with his movement and only a last-gasp challenge by Jonathan Page prevented him from pulling the trigger from close range on 52 minutes.
Pressure was beginning to mount on the Brechin backline and a mazy run from Easton set up Ross Philp with a golden opportunity to drive home from six yards but his effort was easily held by Hutton.
Kelty then had claims for a penalty turned down as Austin fell under the challenge of Page with his boss Ferguson booked for dissent.
Austin was forced off injured in 72 minutes and was replaced by Cammy Russell as the nerves of both sides began to jangle.
City were battling bravely but were leaving gaps at the back as they committed men forward with Philp twice forcing saves out of Hutton from close range.
Kelty were then reduced to ten men themselves as Scott Hooper’s dangerous tackle on Rory Currie saw him given a straight red by referee Craig Napier.
But the moment the Fifers wanted came as sub Andy Rodgers set up Tidser to stroke home from ten yards and clinch Kelty’s place in League Two.
— Ewan Smith (@ewansmithpr) May 23, 2021
As the Kelty players celebrated on the park, dejected Brechin stars did a lap of the park to thank their fans who stayed behind the applaud their team off the park.
The future is bright and exciting for Kelty.
It’s dim and uncertain for Brechin as they head into the Highland League for the first time in their 115-year history.
Brechin City: Hutton, McIntosh, Page, Coupe (Currie 63), Inglis, Barr, Osman, Reekie, Jordan (Chris Paton 74), McKee, Michael Paton. Subs not used: O’Neil; Bollan, O’Connor, McLevy, Slaven.
Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, Reid, Boyle, Hooper, Hill, Reilly, Higginbotham, Tidser, Austin (Russell 71), Easton (Rodgers 82), Philp. Subs not used: Donaldson, Flynn, Rodgers, McNab, Stevenson, Scobbie.
Referee – Craig Napier