Gala Fairydean 2
EoS FIRST DIVISION
KEVIN JANIAK reports from Netherdale
IT IS true that football campaigns are won and lost over the course of a season, and not in one day.
But try telling that to the Gala Fairydean football players who appeared to be soaring into the Premier Division, leading Ormiston 2-1 while league champions Heriot-Watt University, down to 10 men, were holding on to a 1-0 lead over Preston Athletic.
But 20 minutes from time, the news came through to Netherdale that Preston had equalised through Phil Hobbins and the chances of the Students getting one back were slim.
That’s how things finished up – one strike 36 miles away putting the blockers on Gala’s upwardly mobile status.
Although the Fairies have been stingier in the goals against column, Preston scored many more than the Borderers, leaving a goal difference gap of 14.
For the players, it was pretty hard to take. It was a season that was not without its problems. They were without a home ground until January and the ensuing fixture pile-up saw them playing two games a week as it neared its close – a situation which could be earmarked as a possible reason for their mini collapse two weeks ago, when they lost to Duns and Eyemouth.
But on the other side of the coin, their new ground, when it became available, was a catalyst for their drastic improvement in form and their superb rise to third place in the league.
There were no excuses coming from Fraser Lothian, the Gala manager, following Saturday’s match.
He told TheSouthern: “We are all gutted. But there is no point analysing what went wrong, we just need to look to the future.
“This has been a good season for Gala. We finished in third place, one higher than last year, and have scored a lot more points.
“The players have done great. We came today and got the result, but we were in the lap of the gods as to what happened at Riccarton.
“The team spirit amongst the players is the best since I came to Gala.
“We’ll get a few new signings in and try to keep most of this squad. We will just have to work on fitness ahead of next season so we can hit the ground running.”
They did get off to the worst possible start on Saturday. After Craig Tyson and Paul Young came within inches of scoring for Gala, Ormiston’s Brian McEwan turned inside in the ninth minute and skelped an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area into the top corner of the net for the opener. This had the effect of silencing the large home support – for about 60 seconds.
The Fairies launched attack after attack and were denied two penalty claims by referee Alan Hogg, after a fairly gratuitous handball in the box and Richard Fairnie hacking down Jack Hay.
Hay in particular was in good form in the first half and after he was denied a couple of good efforts through some scrambled defending, he levelled as a deflected shot sailed over the visitors’ keeper, James Daly, and into the net in the 28th minute.
That was the same moment Heriot-Watt scored to go ahead in their game. Gala only had to score one more.
And that came in the 40th minute – and not from a player you might expect. Hay played in Scott Nightingale, who lost the ball, but it was picked up by midfielder Bruce Hunter who sent the home fans wild by slotting it into the net.
Gala were in promotion position.
If only football matches were 45 minutes long.
It was a pretty flat second half, with the tension showing through. Grant Gass’s diving header from Nightingale’s cross was their best chance, but it flew past the post.
The news, when it came, that Preston had equalised, filtered through to the players and they knew they could do nothing but wait for the inevitable.
And when the full-time score came through, the disappointment was palpable, but it was soon replaced with grudging acceptance. They had done all they could.
They will, however, surely be one of the favourites to go up next year, and they could just do it.
Gala Fairydean: E. Turnbull, G. Hay, C. Tyson, P. Young, G. Lothian, B. Hunter (C. Jeffrey 85 mins), A. Brunton (A. Brown 72 mins), G. Gass, G. Rossi, J. Hay, S. Nightingale.