Kelty Hearts 2 Annan Athletic 1, cinch League Two

KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM was Kelty Hearts' hero as they maintained their advantage at the top of League Two with a hard-fought success over Annan Athletic.

The former Pars winger fired home a 73rd minute winner for Kevin Thomson's team, who stay four points clear of second placed Stirling Albion, who won 2-0 at Elgin City.

The success also increased their advantage over third top Annan Athletic to eight points as the New Central Park side ended the opening quarter of the campaign unbeaten, picking up seven wins from nine matches into the bargain.

Although the visitors from Galabank made it difficult at times for Kelty to play through them, Thomson's men were worthy winners in the final reckoning, with goalkeeper Greg Fleming perhaps ensuring the margin of defeat wasn't larger.

Jamie Barjonas gave Kelty a deserved lead in the 37th minute with a superb drive that kissed the inside of Fleming's post before nestling into the net, but Tony Wallace pulled the visitors level against the run of play as the interval approached.

That goal looked like it could preserve Annan's unbeaten run on the road - they had won all four of their away league games until today - but Higginbotham's goal ensured they went home with nothing to show for their efforts.

Home boss Thomson gave new signing Daniel Finlayson, who joined on loan from St Mirren yesterday, his debut while Nathan Austin was paired in attacking with Alfredo Agyeman.

Rainfall throughout the day had made the New Central Park surface slick, with a few early, cross-field passes finding touch instead of their intended target, but Kelty did begin to take a foothold in proceedings.

Their early routes to goal, aside from a Robbie McNab shot from the left of the box that finished wide, came from range.

Barjonas forced Fleming into a superb stop to push his curling effort over, before sending two free-kicks narrowly off target, while skipper Michael Tidser also failed to find the target.

Neat play between McNab and Barjonas offered the latter to shoot from the left of the area, which he needed no invitation to do, but a howl of frustration followed as his shot flew wide of the far post.

Kelty, however, were knocking at the door and Annan had to rely on their keeper to keep them out.

Firstly, from a fine cross by Barjonas, he thwarted an Austin header, and Connor Barron on the rebound, before the keeper produced an even better stop to keep out Finlayson's header.

The reprieve was only temporary, though, as Kelty hit the front eight minutes from half-time.

Barjonas strode forward and, wish no opposing player closing him down, elected to shoot from around 20 yards and it paid off handsomely, with his excellent strike finding the net via Fleming's right-hand post.

It was a goal that Thomson's team deserved but, as the interval appraoched, Annan equalised.

They broke forward well and, after an effort from Dominic Docherty was blocked, the loose ball fell at the feet of Wallace, who sent a good strike low beyond Jamieson from the edge of the area.

Kelty came out for the second half in positive fashion, with Austin having an effort blocked well by Roan Steele, before Fleming produced a smart stop from Higginbotham, with Finlayson denied by a blocking defender on the follow-up.

Austin, on his right, went for goal from distance but sent the ball over the bar, as did Barron shortly before the hour mark.

Annan were well organised and, when Austin did manage to get in behind their defence, Jordan Lowdon was on hand to block and snuff out the danger.

Kelty didn't let up, though, and after their number nine was denied by Fleming, Higginbotham saw an effort cleared off the line.

It looked like it might be one of those afternoons but, with 17 minutes left, they struck the decisive blow.

In not too dissimilar fashion to Barjonas' goal, Higginbotham picked the ball up at the edge of the box and left fly with a shot that beat Fleming to nestle into the bottom corner.

Annan couldn't find a response as Kelty saw the game out to stay four points clear of second placed Stirling Albion going into the international break.

Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, McNab, Forster, Finlayson, O'Ware, Higginbotham, Tidser, Barjonas, Barron (Black 86), Agyeman (Biabi 90), Austin (Cardle 77).

Subs not used: Peggie, Hooper, Philp, Finnan, Donaldson.

Goals: Barjonas (37), Higginbotham (73).

Booked: Barjonas (29).

Annan Athletic: G. Fleming, Steele, Lowdon, Moxon, Birch, Swinglehurst, Wallace, Docherty (Garrity 70), Smith (McCartney 86), Anderson (Goss 59), Johnston (K.Fleming 70).

Subs not used: Adamson, Hunter, Purdue, Trialist.

Goal: Wallace (43).

Referee: Matthew MacDermid.

Attendance: 674.