East Stirlingshire 3, Gala Fairydean Rovers 0
Back at the beginning of December, these two sides met in the league at Netherdale with the visitors racking up 10 goals in the Fairydean Rovers’ heaviest ever Lowland League defeat.
There was never a chance of a repeat of that scoreline on Saturday at Ochilview, as Steven Noble’s men produced a battling performance which pushed their high-scoring hosts all the way.
Ultimately, it was clinical finishing by the ‘Shire that proved to be the difference in an evenly-matched and entertaining affair. The game remained in the balance until late on, when a couple of contentious decisions went the way of the home side.
Heavy fog had covered Netherdale in that pre-Christmas meeting but it was a red mist that descended over the Gala bench when, late in the match and trailing 2-0, a superb 25-yard Darren Smith strike appeared to get the visitors back in the game.
However, referee David Munro consulted assistant David Doig and the goal was chalked off, as Stuart Noble was considered to be obstructing the goalkeeper’s view in an offside position. Gala’s misery was compounded just minutes later when a penalty on 87 minutes allowed the home side to put the game beyond Steven Noble’s men.
Darren Smith returned to the visitors’ line-up after serving a one-match suspension, while the home side welcomed back the prolific Andy Rodgers, who had missed Shire’s previous home game against Whitehill Wellfare.
The Fairydean Rovers came flying out of the blocks in a bid to regain some pride from the previous encounter. The visitors forced a series of corners with some neat passing play.
On four minutes, Stuart Noble fired narrowly past from a free kick just outside the box and then good link-up play between the former Fulham striker and Lee Stephen forced a corner, from which a Noble turn and shot was saved by home keeper Jamie Barclay.
On 17 minutes, a superb back-heel from Noble played in Sean Paliczka but the former Bonnyrigg man’s shot flew past the post. The home side always looked dangerous on the counter attack and on-loan Rangers keeper Keiran Wright had to be sharp to save from both Grant and Rodgers. As half-time approached, both teams had chances to open the scoring in an end to end encounter.
John Sludden’s side emerged from the break in determined fashion in a bid to score the Shire’s 100th competitive goal of the season. On 47 minutes, a corner from the left was headed across goal by Michael Oliver, knocked on by Brisbane, and then volleyed home in spectacular fashion by Andy Rodgers. It was the former Falkirk man’s 29th goal of the season.
His strike partner David Grant went one better on 62 minutes when he scored his 30th of the campaign following a Jamie Glasgow cross. Grant is the first East Stirlingshire player to reach that milestone since Jackie Cockburn achieved the feat in the 1962-63 season.
Gala continued to create chances and home keeper Barclay made two tremendous saves to deny Ross Aitchison – the first from a back post header and the second from a volley inside the area.
The other loan Ranger at the Netherdale club, Jason Krones, was a stand-out as the visitors tried their best to get back into the game. Smith’s long-range volley on 85 minutes looked to have given Gala a lifeline only for the stand side assistant to rule Noble offside.
Just seconds later, referee Munro pointed to the spot when he judged that either Ross Aitchison or George Windram had fouled Brisbane in the area. Windram appeared to take the ball cleanly, but up stepped Rodgers to complete the scoring.
Steven Noble was proud of his players’ battling performance and bemoaned the two decisions that went against his side.
“I think 3-0 was harsh on us. We matched a very good team and created a number of good chances. When Darren hit the net with five minutes to go, I thought we might have a chance to grab something from the game.
“Fair play to them for taking their chances. They have been the Lowland League’s highest scoring team this season and their quality in front of goal showed. If we can play like that in our remaining league games, I’m sure we will get the results we deserve.”
Gala Fairydean Rovers: K. Wright, S. Bonnington, L. Stephen, J. Krones, G. Windram, B. Miller, S. Pringle, S. Noble, S. Paliczka, R. Aitchison.