PREMIER DIVISION ONE
LAING SPEIRS reports from Netherdale
A game that produced the tightest of finishes had one of its most dramatic moments just before the interval.
Gala could make nothing of an extra man advantage on the Melrose line, and if games are settled as much by defence as by attack, Melrose won that battle within a battle.
The match was never going to decide anything other than local superiority, with the new senior league not starting until January.
But that took nothing away from the intensity of a match which produced the biggest crowd for a Netherdale club game for many years. The official figures showed an attendance of 2,000 which compared well with the crowds at some of the Reivers’ games.
Ultimately, Melrose made fewer mistakes, were a degree more enterprising, and responded well to some ill-directed kicking from Gala.
Coach George Graham found this only one of several aspects of Gala’s play that seriously disappointed him.
“We made some silly decisions, we made too many errors, the set-piece never worked properly, and we did not deserve to win,” he said.
For Melrose Craig Chalmers was more positive, as befitted a coach who had seen his side recover from an off-form first half to start the second period with a quick score and more precise work.
It wasn’t a day for individual stars to emerge, but the talk at the end was about Allan Dodds’ late try, and the contribution made by Simon Webster, who turned out in place of the injured Joe Helps.
The Melrose forwards, while still missing John Dalziel and Gary Holborn, edged Gala in the tight, with Graeme Dodds giving them a positive attitude throughout.
Gala looked to Opeta Palepoi for some stern work up front and there were some positives from Jack Gilding and Euan Dods.
The first half was tight, scattered with errors on both sides, and produced only a single penalty goal, kicked by Lee Millar after five minutes when Melrose killed the ball. Thereafter it was fairly tense, but not colourful, stuff, with Gala taking the honours on territory, if not on finishing.
They had the chance to go further ahead when, with Ross Miller yellow-carded, they pressurised the Melrose line. But the defence was sound, and with the tension mounting on both sides and all round the ground, the ball was cleared.
This was the moment when the game turned Melrose’s way.
Building on their confident response to Gala’s onslaught, Melrose started the second half a different team. Gone was much of the uncertainty that had marked their first half play and they scored quickly.
Scott Wight took advantage of a clever restart kick to score, after a couple of near things, at the posts, and then converting.
It was then penalties that kept the scoreboard going, Millar with two for Gala and Wight one for Melrose.
The game needed another try, and Opeta Palepoi did the necessary when he went over with his pack in attendance, Millar converting.
At 16-10 Gala wanted another score for safety, but late on Melrose released the ball going right, and Allan Dodds set off on a run that took him round Palepoi for a try converted by substitute Andrew Skeen.
It was a good score to settle the game, the highlight of the match, and it left both sides well set for the new league games in January. But they also meet in the Cup and Border League on Boxing Day. Both sides will want to improve on last Saturday.
Gala: G. Hunter; S. Law, C. Auld, A. Emond, G. Young; L. Millar, George Graham; J. Gilding, R. Anderson, E.McQuillin, C. Weir, O. Palepoi, Gary Lowrie, Gary Graham, E. Dods. Subs D.Marshall. L.Bertram, C.Borthwick, A. McLean, C. Keddie.
Melrose: F. Thomson; A. Dodds, J. Murray. C. Murray, S. Webster; S. Wight, S.McCormick; C. Keen, A. Walker, N. Beavon, G. Eldeer, P. Eccles, R. Miller, G. Runciman, G. Dodds. Subs R. Ferguson, B. Colvine, A. Skeen, J. King, S. Johnson.