Preston Athletic 3 Gala Fairydean Rovers 4
Kenny Paterson reports from Pennypit Park
Football is a cruel game – just ask Preston Athletic’s Craig Pennycuick. The goalkeeper made a number of crucial saves which looked to have helped his team to a precious point in their battle against Lowland League relegation as Preston fought back from 3-0 to draw level with a shellshocked Gala Fairydean Rovers.
But with just seconds left, Pennycuick’s mishit clearance landed at the feet of Stuart Noble 40 yards out, and the striker showed all his experience to provide the composed finish needed to complete his hat-trick and seal three more points for Gala.
Pennycuick left the pitch in tears, and was consoled by his opposite number Keiran Wright.
And while Gala boss Stevie Noble acknowledged the Preston keeper’s efforts, he also paid tribute to two of his own team.
Noble said: “I thought Sean Pringle was our best player today. He has come up from amateur football with Gala Hotspur and has shown a brilliant attitude.
“Lewis Swaney also did well and is going to be an asset for the squad.
“It was tough on their goalie at the end who played well but I did think we deserved to win.”
This game was in some doubt before the match due to persistent rain on an already sodden surface.
And Gala were glad referee Gavin Ross allowed the match to go ahead, as they raced into a three goal half-time lead.
Playing down the considerable slope at Pennypit Park, they went ahead after just two minutes as Des Sutherland started and ended a flowing move.
Pringle and Swaney went close before Stuart Ritchie was left unmarked in the Gala box, only for Wright to make a good save.
But it was Fairydean Rovers who went further ahead as a simple through ball beat Preston’s backline and allowed Noble to finish well beyond Pennycuick.
Gala were now in complete control and Noble made it 3-0 before the half hour, as he superbly controlled a deep Darren Smith free kick, and slammed the ball high into the net.
Preston squandered chances at the end of the first half and further proof of Preston’s refusal to give up came eight minutes after the break as the impressive Fabio Neto set up new signing Jason Young to score from close range.
Gala needed one more goal to kill the game but Pennycuick made two outstanding stops from Pringle and Miller, before David McLeod cleared off his own line in the same goalmouth scramble.
But Preston were more threatening and after Wright produced a fantastic fingertip save from Daniel O’Rourke’s skidding long range effort, Young made it 3-2 with 12 minutes left.
All of a sudden, memories of Gala’s capitulation at Whitehill in December were in the minds of the Gala supporters.
Their fears came to fruition with five minutes left. Substitute Brandon Archibald’s outstanding crossfield ball was lashed home by Robbie Carter to send Preston’s players and supporters into wild celebrations.
The homesters now sensed three points rather than one, but instead it was Gala who claimed a dramatic victory, with Noble the hero and Pennycuick the unfortunate villain.
Stevie Noble also gave a debut off the bench to Jason Krones, a Scotland under 17 defender on loan from Rangers.
Noble added: “Jason is highly rated by Rangers and we are delighted to get him to Netherdale.”
Gala Fairydean Rovers: K. Wright, L. Stephen, L. Swaney (J. Krones 72), S. Main, G. Windram, B. Miller, D. Smith, S. Pringle (S. Bonnington 82), S. Noble, D. Sutherland, S. Paliczka (R. Clapperton 82).
Preston Athletic: C. Pennycuick, K. Erskine (R. Cochrane 75), C. Inglis, D. McLeod, S. Conway, D. O’Rourke, R. Carter, F. Henderson (B. Archibald 25), F. Neto, J. Young, S. Ritchie (M. Smith 67).