A remarkable result at Victoria Park yesterday (Wednesday) means Vale of Leithen’s Lowland League fate now rests solely in the hands of ... Cowdenbeath.
The Innerleithen players were twice ahead of Cumbernauld Colts by three goals last night in their penultimate league game – but had the feet whipped out from under them as Colts hit back in the final minute to draw 4-4.
The result means only Cowdenbeath can save Chris Anderson’s side now, if they win their two-legged play-off in Ladbrokes League Two against Cove Rangers. The games take place at Harlaw Park this Saturday and at Cowden’s Central Park on May 12.
If the Blue Brazil lose, they are out of the national league set-up – and Vale are out of the Lowland League and into the East of Scotland.
Last night’s draw means Vale can only pull level on points with Dalbeattie Star if they win the final league game between the two at Islecroft Stadium on Saturday, with Star having a far superior goal difference.
Yet more irony is piled on by the fact Vale are due to play a cup semi-final when the deciding leg of the Cowdenbeath v Cove play-off is taking place – so they could conceivably reach a cup final and be relegated on the same day.
Manager Anderson reckons injuries to the squad this term were largely what had pushed Vale of Leithen into the predicament they were in – although he admitted they’d had a few chances lately to move away from the trap door.
Failure to take them meant their destiny was now out of their hands completely and all they could do was play the proverbial waiting game.
“The squad has just been decimated by injuries throughout the season,” he said. “We started with 21 players but we’ve never had a squad fully fit throughout the season.
“Last night was just a bit of a devastating one. We were 3-0 up and 4-1 up at one stage, then we just kind of threw it away, which has kind of been the story of the season, really. It’s out of our hands now and we are relying on Cowdenbeath to do us a favour.”
Anderson, who has been in charge at Victoria Park for two years, said all the clubs knew at the start of the season what sort of pressures might ensue from relegation battles, if that was where they ended up, so Vale couldn’t really have too many complaints.
“If you finish where you finish, that’s just what you deserve, really,” he admitted. “Even in the last five games, we have had opportunities – we could have beaten Selkirk, should have beaten Gretna 2008 and Edusport Academy. But last night was just unbelievable.”
Anderson said he would not be making any decisions on his future until the end of the season, when Vale’s fate was known. Relegation would deposit them in the East of Scotland League, but its structure for next season was still being worked out, with a number of teams having applied to join.
Meantime, Vale of Leithen would have to wait and see if Cowdenbeath’s experience of the backs-against-the-wall type of play-off would carry them through again – they were staring down the barrel of the same gun last season against East Kilbride – or whether Cove Rangers’ strong squad, acquired through a lot of expenditure to try and join the national structure, would pay dividends.
Vale of Leithen are due to play Civil Service Strollers on May 12 in the semi-final of the South Challenge Cup – at the same time as their fate is being concluded at Central Park in west Fife.
The Vale website reported that last night’s game was “very entertaining”, although Vale would regret some lapses in defending that allowed Cumbernauld to pull back their three-goal deficits.
Both Jack Blaikie and Jonny Scott-Mercer returned to the side after missing a fair section of the season through injury, as the manager had indicated – but, eventually, both had to be replaced because of further injuries, along with Craig McBride.
The game had started with Vale pressing and they were reward in five minutes when Kerr Allan strode through the Colts defence to make it 1-0.
Vale increased their lead in 21 minutes when, after some slack defending on the bye line, the ball broke to Jordan Finnie, who knocked it home.
Four minutes from the interval, a break on the left allowed Stewart to advance into the Colts box and put the ball beyond the keeper for a 3-0 lead.
On the stroke of half time, a corner was missed by the Vale defence and Brown bent low to head past Ross Gilpin, making it 3-1 to Vale at the turnaround.
In 50 minutes, after a melee in the box from a corner, McBride shot home to restore Vale’s three-goal advantage.
Colts, however, began to create chances from then on, said the website, and Brown was rewarded in 55 minutes when he pulled another goal back.
From then on, Vale were forced into retreat as the fast Colt forwards took control, and Wallace made it 4-3 in the 75th minute.
As the game entered its dying stages, Cumbernauld – who defeated Vale 6-0 recently in the Lowland League Cup – broke up the park and Brown slotted home for his hat-trick to level it at 4-4.
Match sponsor Brian Ellis’ man of the match was goalkeeper Ross Gilpin, who made some excellent saves.
A Vale spokesman told the website: “It was a hard result to take but the lack of match fitness for our returning players, and some slack play in our own half, led to our downfall. Again, the players put in a good shift and cannot be faulted for effort.”