If Gala manager Dean Shanks needed a pick-me-up after his side’s defeat on Saturday, it came from his opposite number. East Kilbride moved nine points clear at the top of the Lowland League. But ahead of any celebrations interim manager, Stuart Malcolm, wanted to heap praise on the team they beat.
He said: “Gala are as good a side as we have faced in the league this season.
“I admire what Dean is doing down here – he has a good bunch of players and they work hard for each other.
“The only difference between the teams today was the experience of some of our players.”
Having already edged past the Fairydean Rovers in the Scottish Cup as well as beating them 3-0 at K Park in the initial league fixture, Kilby arrived at Netherdale as hot favourites.
And their cause was helped further with Gala being without five or six injured players. But it was the hosts who could easily have taken the lead inside five minutes as Ruari Paton raced onto a through ball only to be denied by the reactions of keeper Matthew McGinley. While Kilby had looked far from convincing during the early exchanges they soon got into their stride and it took a finger-tip save from Paddy Martin to prevent Craig Malcolm finding the net with a low shot on 13 minutes.
From the resultant corner Craig Howie rose well to header home the opener. The goal lifted the leaders and for the next 20 minutes or so they showed the type of possession football that has taken them to pole position in the table. But a combination of good defending and a couple of stops from Martin kept Gala in the game. And they almost sneaked an equaliser just before half time as the industrious Sean McKirdy burst from the half way line to slip a pass to Phil Addison, but the returning striker’s near post effort was brilliantly pushed away by McGinley.
Gala came even closer to drawing level eight minutes into the second half as Paton turned well to unleash a spectacular 25-yard, dipping shot that rattled against the bar. For long spells it was the home team who looked the more assured on the ball with McKirdy and Sandy Cunningham dictating play and the ever-reliable Kieran Watson regularly winning possession back. But the Kilby central defensive partnership of Howie and David Proctor were solid all afternoon. And when Addison and Craig O’Reilly did get a sniff of goal they were flagged for offside.The league leaders looked dangerous on the break with Martin pulling off good saves to deny both Chris Humphrey and Cameron Russell. And with just three minutes remaining Kilby got the all-important second as Malcolm spun away from his marker to head home from close range.
Gala boss Shanks wasn’t too disappointed with his day.He told us: “You can’t fault the performance as we were every bit as good as a team who will go on and win the league.“I thought we gave the goals away a wee bit cheaply but these are the things we’ll work on and make sure we continue to improve as a team.”
Gala Fairydean Rovers. P Martin, R Stevenson, S Main, D Smith, R Donaldson, K Watson, A Cunningham, S McKirdy, C O’Reilly, R Paton & P Addison.