Civil Service Strollers 2, Gala Fairydean Rovers 2
A stunning late strike from Ruari Paton earned 10-man Gala Fairydean Rovers a share of the spoils in this entertaining Lowland League fixture at Christie Gilles Park.
Deep into injury time, the Irish youngster lined up a free kick on the edge of the home side’s penalty area.
The on-loan Hibs striker then fired an unstoppable shot beyond Civil keeper Josh Donaldson to secure a well-deserved point for the visitors.
Gala lined up with new signing Scott Taylor-Mackenzie starting in midfield.
The former Livingston and St Johnstone youngster arrived at Netherdale just 24 hours earlier from Kelty Hearts, in a deal that resulted in former Hearts star Sean McKirdy heading in the other direction.
The visitors almost got off to the perfect start in the opening seconds when Paton was played straight through on goal.
Rather than try a shot, the youngster elected to pick a pass into the centre of the box and Civil managed to scramble the ball clear.
It was the home side who took an early lead just moments later when former Selkirk playmaker Jordan Hopkinson worked space in the box to shoot past Paddy Martin.
There were a few meaty challenges on a heavy pitch and, twice within the opening 10 minutes, referee Simon MacLean had to speak to home players after Taylor-Mackenzie and the returning Dale Baxter were sent sprawling.
On the half-hour mark, Civil SS almost doubled their lead when Hopkinson broke free of the Gala defence but Martin saved comfortably.
Moments later, Gala FR were level. Dale Baxter burst into the penalty area and was brought clattering to the ground. Paton stepped up and fired confidently past Donaldson.
Buoyed by the goal, the visitors played their best football of the game, forcing successive corners and coming close to taking the lead on two occasions, both involving Phil Addison.
First of all, the former Selkirk striker latched on to a Taylor-Mackenzie free kick and forced a save from Donaldson. The next came from a corner when he shot narrowly over.
Right on half-time, Civil SS also had good opportunities to score. Hopkinson fired narrowly over from the left-hand side of the area and Mark McConnell forced a fine save from Martin when he rose unopposed at the back post from a corner on the left.
The second half continued to be open and entertaining. First, Gala FR forced the pace following a fantastic midfield drive from Sandy Cunningham. This led to Paton switching play to Addison, who fired straight at Donaldson.
Then the home side came close when former Gala man Kevin Waugh stung Paddy Martin’s hands with a well-struck free kick from the edge of the box.
Gala were forced into a change just after the hour mark when a tight hamstring forced left-back Scott Main to make way for Tommy Patterson.
Gary Jardine’s Civil have been the surprise package of the Lowland League this season and a fine run of results has seen them move into the top four of the table.
The home side were now in the ascendancy and Gala had Martin to thanks for keeping them in the game with a number of important saves.
On 77 minutes, however, David Churchill latched on to a defence-splitting pass, held off a challenge from Patterson, and fired the home side back in front.
Gala pushed for an equaliser but it looked like they would emerge empty-handed when Reese Donaldson received his marching orders, following two yellow cards in the 88th and 89th minutes.
However, Dean Shank’s side refused to throw in the towel and, when Phil Addison was fouled on the edge of the area, deep into stoppage time Ruari Paton sparked wild celebrations in the visiting dug-out with his expertly struck free-kick.
Fairydean Rovers manager Dean Shanks said: “We’re obviously delighted to take a point in the circumstances.
“Down to 10 men against one of the in-form sides in the league, we continued to force the play and got our reward. Once again, we have played a top side in the Lowland League and matched them.
“I was delighted with the debut of Scott Taylor-Mackenzie. He has not had a full 90 minutes in over two months but I thought he showed he can be an important player for Gala during the remainder of this season and next as we look to improve our squad.”
Gala Fairydean Rovers: Paddy Martin, Reese Donaldson, Scott Main (Tommy Patterson 68), Pat Scullion, Kieran Ainslie, Kieran Watson, Sandy Cunningham, Scott Mackenzie, Ruari Paton, Dale Baxter, Phil Addison. Subs (unused): D. Bell, C. Green, B. Mullen.