Gala Fairydean 1, Coldstream 6
JOHN Crawford scored a hat-trick as First Division leaders Coldstream smashed second-placed Gala at Netherdale in a one-sided encounter to move eight points clear at the top of the table.
The game was decided within six first half minutes, as the Streamers bagged a quick fire treble to ensure the three points were heading back to Berwickshire by half time.
But it was a superb save by visiting stopper Mark Walters from Scott Nightingale’s penalty when the score was 0-0 which left home boss Garry Fraser thinking what might have been, and leaves The Dean eight points behind Coldstream in top spot.
Fraser said: “It was a good save and gave them a lift. At the same time our heads dropped because of it. We then lost three goals in six minutes which at this level is not acceptable. That cost us the game. I find it hard to understand how one penalty miss can change a game.”
His opposite number Andrew Gibson concurred. “I think the penalty changed the game. Big Walters has been outstanding this season and made a great save. That really kicked us on as we had not really showed up until that point.”
Fraser surprised the spectators who shivered into a freezing Netherdale – the 3G pitch deemed playable by referee Graeme Leslie despite a thin coating of frozen snow across it – by dropping top scorer Jack Hay to the bench.
Gibson admitted he was relieved to see the striker left out for arriving late for his side’s pre-match preparations, but his replacement Nightingale was straight into the action in a cagey opening spell. He almost capitalised on a superb Jay Wilson pass on 18 minutes but mis-controlled as he was about to shoot.
Ten minutes later the forward earned the penalty which proved such a pivotal moment.
Walters rolled the ball out to right back Gary Wales, whose first touch was poor, and his second even worse, as he tripped Nightingale in the box. But Wales’ goalkeeper came to his rescue with a save low to his right hand side to deny Nightingale.
Unfortunately for Gala, their keeper was not in such good form. Admirably, Elliot Turnbull took the blame for handing the league leaders their first goal on 32 minutes, after he charged to the edge of his box to try and clear a Gary Wales free kick, only to miss the ball and give Sean Simpson the chance to net.
Four minutes later, Gala’s defence was ripped apart like a child uncovering presents on Christmas morning, and despite Gary Lothian’s goal line block of a Kris O’Neil shot, Stuart Coyle curled the rebounded into the top corner.
Coyle was again involved on 38 minutes as he raced through on goal only to be brought down by Turnbull, leaving whistler Leslie little option but to point to the spot again.
O’Neil was not to be denied this time, sending Turnbull the wrong way to send a shell-shocked Gala side at the half-time break trailing 3-0. Any thoughts of a second half comeback ended once Coyle lofted a cross into the box on 51 minutes. You almost knew before John Crawford had headed the ball that it was destined for the back of the net net, the big striker being such a strong presence in the air.
To Gala’s credit, they went three up front with the introduction of Jack Hay straight after Coldstream’s fourth goal but the visitors still looked the most likely to add to their already healthy tally. Jonny Simpson headed straight at Turnbull after Crawford had set him up, but roles were reversed for the Streamers’ fifth on 82 minutes as Simpson’s cross found his team-mate a yard from goal to bundle the ball over the line.
Jack Hay scored the goal of the game with a fine run and shot four minutes from time, but another defensive mishap from Gala allowed Crawford to nip the ball off Turnbull and score into an empty net in the final minute for his hat-trick. Crawford has now scored eight times in his last three games and looks as potent as ever, having bagged an incredible 43 goals last term.
Add to the side Lawrie Cannon, a former Dunfermline Athletic defender who was superb at Netherdale, and it is not hard to see why the Home Park side are sitting top of the First Division.
Manager Gibson added: “Last year we relied solely on Crawford, whereas this season there are goals right across our frontline. We are creative and also solid at the back.
“We have only started to find our form just now because of injuries. But we are hitting form at the right time.”
Ominous signs for the rest of Gala and the rest of the First Division – Coldstream look the team to beat.
Coldstream: M Walters, G Wales, J Ainslie, J McLeod, L Cannon, S Simpson (G McCuddon 59), J Simpson, J Hebdon, J Crawford, K O’Neil, S Coyle (M Sadler 73).