Vale of Leithen 2
Gala Fairydean Rovers 3
Two late goals were enough to give Gala FR the points in an incident-packed and entertaining Borders derby last Saturday.
Steven Noble’s men were twice behind on a heavy Innerleithen pitch, but they battled hard to ensure they completed a league double over hosts Vale in the first Lowland League action of 2017.
It could all have been so different for Chris Anderson’s side.
They had worked hard to establish a 2-1 lead but the game hinged on an incident on the hour involving Vale’s player/assistant manager Keith McLeod, who was shown a straight red card by referee Colin Whyte after a touchline exchange with FR’s Darren Smith.
Leading at the time and having created a number of goalscoring opportunities, the home side were forced on to the back foot for the remainder of the game and will have been frustrated not to have taken at least a point.
Vale started brightly and were ahead on 10 minutes when new signing Andy Martin fired home from the right hand edge of the penalty area. On 26 minutes he almost doubled the home sides lead but Kieran Wright saved well.
On the half hour Gala were level when visiting captain Billy Miller rose to meet a lofted Darren Smith free-kick but it looked like the final touch belonged to a home player as the ball nestled in the net behind Andy McQueen.
Vale recaptured the lead in controversial circumstances just before half-time. Gala were looking for play to be stopped after Billy Miller was injuredas he and Vale’s Danny O’Donnell challenged for a ball in midfield.
Miller was unable to carry on but referee Whyte allowed play to continue and, from a resulting free-kick and with the visitors still down to 10 men, Craig McBride rose unchallenged to nod Vale back in front.
Just after half-time, the home side suffered a double blow when first the experienced O’Donnell limped off to be replaced and then McLeod saw red.
Vale could have had a third, however, when they broke at pace from a Gala corner and Liam McIntosh bore down on goal. His initial effort hit the inside of the post and shot along the line. Kieran Wright managed to get in a block as the Vale forward looked set to score the rebound.
With the extra man advantage, Gala enjoyed the majority of the play but Vale still looked dangerous on the break.
Vale were determined to protect their lead and see out the game. But, with the clock running down, Darren Smith fizzed a free-kick into the centre of the penalty box and Brad Raiker was unfortunate to deflect past McQueen for the Vale’s second own goal of the day.
Gala continued to press and, deep into injury time, they got their reward. Vale didn’t deal with another ball into the box and sub Des Sutherland was on hand to nod into the empty net for a 94th minute winner.