HEARTACHE AS GFR JUST FALL SHORT AT NETHERDALE
KELTY HEARTS 2
SCOTTISH LOWLAND LEAGUE
GALA's incredible winning run came to an end on Saturday as Kelty Hearts edged a pulsating thriller at Netherdale. Barry Ferguson's side arrived in the Borders full of confidence following back-to-back wins over Cumbernauld and an eye catching conclusion to their BetFred Cup campaign. But the defending champions were rocked by an injury to captain Michael Tidser during the pre-match warm-up, and just five minutes into the match James Stevenson also pulled up with a hamstring problem.
Despite the setbacks it was the visitors who dominated the early exchanges with Fraser Morton being forced into a couple of early saves. But the keeper was wrong-footed in the 12th minute as Dougie Hill picked his spot with a looping header from Dylan Easton's diagonal freekick.
Gala's normal high-tempo game was being easily disrupted by the hard-working Hearts midfield, and it took until after the half hour before the home team finally strung together a few phases of attacking play. Scott-Taylor Mackenzie drove into the final third to unleash a powerful low effort from 25 yards. While Darren Jamieson did well to push the shot round his post, he was caught out from the resultant corner as Mackenzie was able to turn and slot home from close range.
The Fairydean Rovers almost edged in front just two minutes later as Danny Galbraith reached the byline to dink a terrific ball towards Phil Addison, but the striker could only hook the cross a foot over the bar. Gala were immediately punished as Easton reacted quickly after Nathan Austin's shot was blocked by Craig McBride, and the former Forfar striker impressively smashed the ball inside the far post. Austin almost grabbed a third from a tight angle on the stroke of half time but Morton saved well.
Kelty deserved their half-time lead, but they found themselves on the back-foot for almost all of the second period. Jacob Campbell and Archie Roue, as well as his replacement Marc Berry, began to enjoy a lot more space on the flanks. And Ross Aitchison was able to press further forward along with Mackenzie and Galbraith as Kelty dropped deeper and deeper. Calum Hall's shot in the 59th minute deflected just wide. And just a couple of minutes later Mackenzie had a great chance to equalise for a second time as he was threaded through on goal, but his shot was saved well by Jamieson.
Kelty's experienced defence was being stretched as the half wore on with Berry finding enough space to head a Lewis Grant cross straight at the keeper, and Gareth Rodger fired a foot wide from just inside the area. Kelly had a good chance in the closing minutes as he rose well at the back post to connect with Mackenzie's cross, but he could only head across the face of goal.
Gala boss Neil Hastings couldn't hide his disappointment at the final whistle. He said: "I'm gutted! We deserved something from that game".
"The first half wasn't really us and we had to hang in there at times, but after half time we showed what we are all about.
"Kelty have a lot of good players but we had them pinned back."
Kelty boss Barry Ferguson was relieved to be leaving with the three points. He said: "We have had three hard games in seven days and we have picked up all nine points, so I've got to be happy".
"I thought we deserved to be in front and, although Gala came at us in the second half, we defended well to hold on.
"The boys are understandably tired, but we know it's going to be tough this season if we want to win the league again."
Gala Fairydean Rovers. F Morton, L Grant, C Hall, C McBride, G Rodger, S T Mackenzie, A Roue (M Berry 59), R Aitchison, P Addison, D Galbraith (B Herdman 57) & J Campbell.