NATHAN AUSTIN paid tribute to his team-mates for helping him net a hat-trick on Saturday after revealing he has recovered from COVID-19.

The Kelty Hearts hitman took his tally for the season to nine in all competitions against Albion Rovers, ensuring his team returned from Coatbridge with a 3-0 win to maintain their place at the top of the table.

Despite having players such as Dougie Hill, Thomas Reilly and Alfredo Agyeman unavailable, Kevin Thomson's men saw off their hosts comfortably to stay two points clear of second-top Annan Athletic.

Austin set them on their way with a fine finish from six yards after latching on to Kallum Higginbotham's floated pass, and then headed in number two in the 20th minute with a fine header from a Higginbotham centre.

Although Scott Roberts struck the bar for Albion, Austin sealed the game – and the match ball – just after the hour mark. Jordon Forster’s long ball was chased down by Austin, who latched onto a short header back towards his own goal by Ali El-Zubaidi, cut inside beyond Sean Fagan and drilled home a left-foot shot from around 12 yards.

The 27-year-old missed the team's opening two SPFL League Two games, as well as the win at Stenhousemuir at the end of August, and told his club's media channel afterwards: "To be honest, I wasn't feeling that great.

"I just had COVID, and I've got the flu, so it was kind of like a double-whammy, but the team helped me because people maybe saw I wasn't moving as well as I usually would. I managed to get into the positions to get the goals and help the team, and that's the most important thing is helping the team. I think I did that.

"We're buzzing with the games just now, especially when you're on a good run you just want the games to keep coming."

He added: "When you go away and you can score three goals it's good, and to keep a clean sheet as well. Overall, I think we're happy with the performance.

"There's bits we can work on like there always is, but overall we're really chuffed with the performance and the win."

Assistant manager Kevin MacDonald said that new signing Kieran Ngwenya – who joined last week on loan from Aberdeen, on the same day that striker Cammy Russell left for Spartans – had pulled out of the starting line-up following a groin strain in the warm-up but hoped another Dons loanee, Connor Barron, would be back to face Stranraer this weekend after injury.

Agyeman, who suffered concussion against Elgin City, is set for a return, while it's hoped skipper Michael Tidser will be fit enough to be in contention for a starting berth.

"It feels like, since the start of the season, we've not been able to pick the same team," MacDonald commented.

"The gaffer keeps speaking about how we need to be all in, and that we need to rely on each other. Maybe in the past, teams have come up with 12 or 13 players, but you need a squad to get to the level where we want to be.

"We knew Albion Rovers would be a tough place to go because of the pitch and whatever else. We'd seen reports that they fancied it, and would have the fans behind them, and we're becoming a bit of a scalp for teams.

"We probably are because we've got players on the pitch who have played at a higher level, the start we've had, and that the manager is a name himself.

"We only had two subs; we've been down to the bare bones over the last few weeks, and the players deserve a lot of credit for that."

MacDonald, who teamed-up with Thomson – with whom he works at the Kelty manager's coaching academy – after leaving East of Scotland League, Premier Division side Musselburgh Athletic, is pleased with the opening seven games but admits they felt they dropped points in draws with Elgin and Forfar Athletic.

"We're finding it difficult to break teams down more at home than away. Away from home, we've been fine," he added.

"When we go away, the pressure maybe isn't on us as much, and our pitch is maybe a bit tighter than some others, which probably doesn't help with the way we want to play.

"We're constantly working on it in training."

Albion Rovers: Binnie, Lynas, Leslie (Sweeney 86), Fagan, McKernon, El-Zubaidi (Robinson 73), C. Wilson (L. Wilson 44), D. Wilson, Roberts, Doherty, Wright (Trialist 72). Subs not used: Fernie, McGowan, Sandberg, McVey, Dolan.

Booked: El-Zubaidi (51), Trialist (73).

Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, Hooper, Forster, McNab, O’Ware, Black, Barjonas, Philp, Cardle, Austin (Biabi 76), Higginbotham. Subs not used: Peggie, Tidser, Ngwenya, Finnan, Donaldson.

Goals: Austin (11, 20, 63).

Referee: Grant Irvine.

Attendance: 457.