Brora Rangers 0 Kelty Hearts 2, Pyramid Play-Off semi-final, first leg.

KELTY HEARTS took a major step towards securing a pyramid play-off final with Brechin City by earning a two-goal victory at Brora Rangers last night.

Barry Ferguson's Lowland League champions overcame their Highland League counterparts at Dudgeon Park thanks to Dylan Easton and Kallum Higginbotham in a match that saw them awarded THREE penalty kicks.

Although two of them were saved, ex-Pars star Higginbotham's successful conversion from 12 yards added to Easton's first half opener to give the men in maroon a strong advantage going into Saturday's second leg at New Central Park.

Both clubs had missed out on this chance 12 months ago, with play-offs across the divisions scrapped after the season was called due to the outbreak of Coronavirus, and only received confirmation from the SFA and SPFL last Thursday that the tie would go ahead.

Kelty had been given a professional sport exemption to return to training ahead of the announcement but hadn't played since January 9, when they lost to Stranraer in the Scottish Cup.

Steven Mackay's Brora - who were beaten in the very first pyramid play-off final, by Montrose, in 2015 - had played as recently as April 3, when they were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Stranraer in round three, having beaten Camelon Juniors and, memorably, Heart of Midlothian.

Ferguson named a strong starting line-up and, incredibly, had two opportunities to score from the spot inside the opening nine minutes.

Colin Williamson was judged by referee Grant Irvine to have felled Higginbotham four minutes in and, although the Englishman stepped up himself, he was denied by home keeper Joe Malin.

The Brora stopper looked to have turned from hero to villain five minutes later when his foul on Nathan Austin presented a second 12-yard opportunity for Kelty, but he redeemed himself by saving the striker's kick.

It was a frantic start to proceedings but, midway through the half, the visitors made the breakthrough when Dylan Easton sent a fine, swerving shot beyond the helpless Malin and into the top corner from range.

The midfielder came close moments later to doubling his and his team's tally, but Dougie Hill soon needed to be on guard to make a vital block as Brora chased a leveller.

Austin then had the ball in the net, having charged down Malin, but was penalised for handball before Andy Macrae shot narrowly wide for the hosts.

Then, 11 minutes after the break, Kelty were awarded a third spot-kick of the evening and this time Higginbotham made no mistake, giving them a two-goal advantage.

It was a lead preserved by the excellence of goalkeeper Darren Jamieson, who made a fine fingertip save to keep out Mark Nicolson's header, while Austin was unlucky not to find Ross Philp in the six yard box at the other end.

Kelty's talisman was twice unfortunate not to add a third - firstly having been denied by Malin, then firing inches wide - in the final minute, but he and his team-mates had done enough and will take a commanding lead back to New Central Park.

Brora Rangers: Malin, A. MacDonald, Williamson, Nicolson, Gillespie, Morrison, MacLean, Macrae, Kelly, Wagenaar.

Subs: Pickles, Brindle, Sutherland, Gamble, G. MacDonald, Stephen.

Kelty Hearts: Jamieson, Hooper, Hill, Boyle, Stevenson, Reilly, Tidser, Philp, Easton, Higginbotham, Austin.

Subs: Donaldson, Reid, Scobbie, McNab, Flynn, Russell, Rodgers.

Goals: Easton (22), Higginbotham (56, pen).

Referee: Grant Irvine.