Gala Fairydean Rovers 1

Vale of Leithen 3

By David Knox

at Netherdale

VALE ended the year on a high after picking up only their second win of the season to move off the bottom of the Lowland League.

But the joy in one camp meant a miserable festive period for Gala Fairydean Rovers who are edging closer with each match towards the relegation dogfight.

Although Neil Hastings’ team have probably picked up enough points during the early stages of the season to remain safe, the drop in form is a major concern.

The home manager told us: “That was a hugely disappointing performance – we were simply not at the races today against a Vale team who more than deserved the win.

“Every game in this league is difficult and we need to play a lot better than we did today if we are to start going in the other direction.

“We will work hard to prepare ourselves better and we’ll hopefully have one or two players to come back as well.”

The casualty list at Netherdale, with no fewer than seven players sidelined, along with the unavailability of a couple more of the Gala squad was perhaps a factor in Saturday’s poor showing.

But Vale’s improving form along with some clever tactics was undoubtedly the main reason Chris Anderson’s team collected the points.

The return of veteran striker Keith McLeod to lead the line, ably supported by a hard-working three attacking midfielders, caused the home defence problems throughout Saturday’s derby.

Player-manager Anderson told us: “I thought the performance from everyone was tremendous.

“The boys carried out the game plan perfectly and we controlled the tempo of the game.

“Having the experience of Keith up front was the difference for us as he allowed everyone else to play the game we wanted.”

Gala did start brightly enough with both Jacob Campbell and Ben Herdman going close with efforts inside the opening six minutes.

But a terrific pass from Anderson split the home defence on 12 minutes to allow Brad Rixon to neatly fire the ball into the far corner of the net.

Closing down from the Vale players made sure Gala couldn’t muster an immediate response.

And the frustration for the Fairydean Rovers faithful intensified seven minutes before the break as Liam Ireland’s angled shot was palmed into the path of Rixon by Fraser Morton, and the striker poked home his second of the match from close range.

The home team did have a golden chance just four minutes into the second half as Scott Taylor McKenzie floated a freekick into the path of Ross Aitchison, but his scuffed shot was straight into the arms of Andy McQueen.

A mazy Campbell run also required a terrific block from Ally Smith.

But Vale were looking much more threatening on the counter attack.

Ireland was threaded through by McLeod on the hour only to fire wide.

And McLeod also headed Calum Hall’s cross wide of the far post.

The introduction of Stuart Noble did give Gala more edge in the final third and the former St Johnstone striker’s lay-off was fired against the outside of the post by Zander Murray in the 71st minute.

But the game was settled just three minutes later as Ireland burst into the area and his cut back was slotted beyond Morton by Liall Smith.

The home team did pull a goal back in the 88th minute as a Noble effort clattered the post and Scott Taylor MacKenzie scrambled the deflected ball over the line.

Calum Hall almost capped his man-of-the-match performance with a fourth Vale goal deep in injury time after racing beyond the defence to clip the ball agonisingly round the wrong side of the post.

Gala Fairydean Rovers. F Morton, L Kinchant, A Chingwalu, D Leddie, B Herman, S Taylor Mackenzie, M Berry, N Kelly (S Noble 69), Z Murray, R Aitchison & J Campbell (S Paliczka 84).

Vale of Leithen. A McQueen, A Smith, C Hall, P Thomson, A Imlah, G Rossi (M Robertson 52), B Rixon, L Hall, C Anderson (L Smith 61), K McLeod (J Wishart 77) & L Ireland.