Stirling Albion 0 KELTY HEARTS 3, cinch SPFL League Two

KELTY HEARTS have moved 10 points clear at the top of League Two after a comfortable win at Stirling Albion this afternoon.

Nathan Austin's well-taken first half opener, added to by Joe Cardle's brace, sealed a fine success for Kevin Thomson's men at Forthbank.

Having lost their unbeaten record at Annan Athletic on Boxing Day, this was the perfect response in a game which was, at times, niggly, scrappy but lit up by quality from the visitors.

Austin's goal, and the set up by Jamie Barjonas, was superbly worked and both of Cardle's finishes were clinical and crisp.

It moved Kelty 10 points ahead of second top Forfar Athletic, who hosted Stranraer at 3pm.

The visitors were without the suspended Jordon Forster - sent off at the interval during their last outing, a 5-1 loss at Annan Athletic on Boxing Day - as Thomson made five changes to his starting line-up.

Having lost Connor Barron due to being recalled from his loan spell by parent club Aberdeen, the Kelty boss also left goalkeeper Josh Donaldson, Daniel Finlayson and Ross Philp on the bench, where new signing, Harrison Clark, joined them.

In came Darren Jamieson, Dougie Hill, Robbie McNab, Thomas O'Ware and Thomas Reilly, who made his first start since the opening day of the season following an injury lay off.

If Thomson was seeking a response to their first defeat of the season in League Two, at Annan, he got it within four minutes - and what a lovely goal it was.

Kallum Higginbotham started the move, picking the ball up midway inside the Stirling half.

He played the ball into the feet of Jamie Barjonas, who showcased his talent with a delightful, flighted pass in behind the defence for Austin to run on to and clip a similarly classy finish beyond Blair Currie from around 12 yards out.

It was the perfect start for Kelty but, with a quarter of an hour played, the suffered a blow when Barjonas was forced off through injury, to be replaced by Andrew Black.

With the rain coming down heavily during the opening period, the pitch began to cut up, and the game became scrappy, with a few niggly fouls throughout.

The home bench were quick to make their feelings known about some decisions which they felt went harshly against them, but Kelty had some cause for complaint as well, particularly when a late challenge on Austin - after he crossed the ball - went unpunished.

Defender O'Ware fancied his chances from range, as did Austin, but they failed to trouble Binos keeper Currie, who got himself right behind a decent effort from Tidser after a Cardle centre was headed out and into his path.

O'Ware also headed wide for the visitors, who were reminded that they would not be in for an easy afternoon when Jordan McGregor headed off target from Leo Watson's free-kick from deep.

With just seven minutes gone in the second half, Kelty suffered another injury blow when Dougie Hill was forced to hobble off, with Ross Philp is replacement, before Kelty had another half chance.

Higginbotham's header down was won by Austin at the edge of the area, but his shot lacked the power to trouble Currie in the Binos goal.

But, just before the hour mark, Kelty doubled their advantage.

It was a relatively simple build-up, with Jamieson's clearance flicked on by Austin, then Higginbotham, into Cardle's path.

The winger then shimmied one way, then the other, to create the space he needed to drill the ball under Currie from 12 yards out.

Cardle then tested Currie's reflexes at the near post as the visitors looked for a third, with Philp unfortunate not to be able to send the resultant corner on target.

The visitors, though, did add a third and, although it was hard to disagree with the exasperated home gaffer Darren Young's cry of "too easy", it was more clean, clinical finishing.

Kelty retained the ball from a corner kick and, after receiving it inside the box on the right, Cardle took his time before firing beyond Currie for his second of the afternoon.

Moments later, he almost had the match ball when Currie denied him after he was played through by substitute Alfredo Agyeman, but it mattered little in the end.

It was a comfortable afternoon for Kelty who, at least temporarily, moved 10 points clear at the League Two summit.

Stirling Albion: Currie, McGeachie, Watson (Leitch 63), Banner, McGregor, Grant (Hancock 63), Scally (Heaver 76), Flanagan (Moore 85), Roberts, Carrick (Mackin 63), McNiff.

Subs not used: Law, Bikey, Greenhorn, Creaney.

Booked: Grant (63), McGeachie (72).

Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, Hill (Philp 52), Cardle, Reilly (Clark 64), Austin (Agyeman 64), Barjonas (Black 15), Higginbotham, Tidser, McNab, Ngweyna, O'Ware.

Subs not used: Peggie, Hooper, Finlayson, Donaldson, Biabi.

Goals: Austin (4), Cardle (58, 78).

Referee: Chris Graham.