Report By: DEAN THOMSON
The Strollers 4th last league game of the campaign wasn't scheduled until next weeks home tie against bottom of the league side Melville Rovers. A free week had been scheduled by the Association to accommodate cup fixtures. However, with Hermiston Vales cup tie in Lanarkshire postponed due to adverse weather conditions, both sides took advantage of an available 3G pitch at Forresters High School - a venue that has not been so lucky to for the side to date, losing 2 out of 2 their.
The Strollers were hoping to turn this around today, but it was not going to be easy against a very strong Hermiston Vale outfit. A young team from Wester Hailes area, Hermiston have caused havoc in their first season in the association, including a 100% win rate in the league and ongoing successful cup runs, including a place in the 6th round of the Scottish Amateur Cup - a feat unheard of for a side competing in the so called 'lowest division' in the association. The Strollers witnessed their own onslaught at the hands of Vale back on the 28th of August, playing away from home in a 4-0, going on 14-0 defeat.
Back then, a rebuilding Strollers squad knew they'd need to train hard and begin to compete better in all areas of the pitch, should they look to avoid another heavily one-sided affair in the return leg. Today was their chance to put this to the test...
Hermiston Vale started their usual lively self, settling early and zipping the ball about well on the 3G surface. No time to settle against this side. However, if they felt this promising start was to lead to the destruction of LBG once more, they were sadly mistaken. The Strollers, although mainly taking up an early defensive stance, look pumped for this game, remembering the upset of their last meeting against Hermiston. Manager Campbells' pre-match team talk of competing with every side to secure 3rd spot still clearly fresh in the minds of the starting 11.
Campbell set up in a newly favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, providing a much needed defensive line of 6 consisting of a back 4 of Captain Wallace, Thomson, Reade and Annand, with Dillon and McPherson taking up defensive midfield positions. A role reversal for Dillon and Thomson today and a debut midfield start for Dillon, who excelled in there brilliantly mixing his defensive abilities with a hunger to get on the ball and find passes to the 'front 4'. Hitchen, Langstaff and Gaunt made up an attacking midfield, with a view of taking advantage of their pace to hurt the opposition in their half. The line up was completed by Clement, as a sole striker. No 1 Allan was back between the posts after taking 1 week off to welcome the arrival of his new son. If the Strollers keeper thought home life had just got a whole lot busier, he was in for much of the same today against a side who have been racking up some cricket-like results this season!
Although LBG resisted a few early Vale shots on goal, they were to be haunted once again by their tall no 9, who has all the attributes of a good striker - pace, skill and a keen eye for goal. A Greg Wallace pass up the line was intercepted by the left midfielder who found his team mate, who then proceeded to stride with the ball for a few yards before ripping a low drive to the bottom left hand corner of the net, from 20 yards out, after just under 10 minutes played. 1-0. One of many goals this season for Vales's target man who could most certainly step up a few divisions, if it were not for a poor attitude. If he could cut out the verbals to his own team mates, the opposition and the referre, as well as the persistent late tackles, he could go further in the game which he plays so well at times.
The goal did not have any adverse effect on the home side's attitude, who fought like lions in every area of the pitch, notably by Dillon, who was cleaning up in all aerial challenges that came his way. The Strollers were rewarded with their tireless work off the ball, which allowed them to start tipping the possession stats in to their own favour at times and two golden opportunities were to be had. Some really positive forward play by the front 4 resulted in shots from Dillon and Clement, both from about 5-10 yards from goal. Dillon, although connecting well, struck his shot a bit too sweetly and over the cross bar. Clement, maybe a bit cold from having little touches on the ball in the early period, swiping too eagerly at a bouncing ball, making little connection. A great run on to a Langstaff cross, a lovely first touch off his chest, but no end product for this year's Golden Boot winner by a long way. 1-0 at the break.
A quick half time turnaround for the Strollers who were keen to keep the momentum of the first 45 minutes going. Given the heatedness of the game, there was surprisingly no injuries to address at half time. However, LBG took comfort from the fact that they had a strong and well balanced 'bench' consisting of defender Gregg Carson, defensive midfielder Aaron Searl and attacking midfielder Ritchie Paul. All 3 were brought on around the 70 minute mark to provide some fresh legs and chase the draw.
After a couple of debatable penalty claims had been waved away by Spanish referee Elio, one was finally given in the 57th minute for a clear foul on Gaunt inside the area. Gaunt looked confident on the ball today, having no hesitation at running at the Hermiston back line when gathering the ball. Surprise, surprise, Clement converted. 7 out of 7 this season from the spot. 1-1.
The teams stayed at deadlock for 10-15 minutes before Hermiston Vale looked to have crushed any chance of the Strollers taking any points from this game, by scoring two in the space of 2 or 3 minutes. The arrival of Hermiston Vale super sub - Nacho - provided all the right ingredients to compliment the no 9 upfront, having a hand in both goals. His own goal, Hermiston's first, saw the stick thin subby salsa dance his way through the defence, before curling cutely in to the far corner.
The Strollers continued to fight for something though, even if it was just their own pride but actually continued to dominate the bulk of the possession. This led to another poor tackle, this time just outside the Hermiston 18 yard box. The position of the free kick was tailor made for a left footer and Langstaff instantly ran after the ball to take control of this opportunity to trouble the vistors. On 80 minutes, a goal here would really trouble the visitors, who already looked to be frustrated and bemused by their rare lack of dominance in this game. And boy did Langstaff deliver! A short run up and a touch of tail wind was all he needed to crash a sweetly struck free kick right in to the top corner of the net. No keeper was stopping this one. 3-2 and game on...again!
LBG pushed for the deserved equaliser in the fnal 10 minutes, but it was not to be. Today's game had everything - fight, good passing, some great goals and a lot of battling from both sides. If this was a Premiership game, it would have most likely been the biggest contender as the feature game on Match of the Day!
Although nothing taken from the game, Strollers troubled a Hermiston Vale side who are used to dominating and breezing through all of their games, and can be very proud themselves. If they show the same attitude and determination in their remaining fixtures they can be sure to secure 3rd spot this season.
Should the weather settle down next week, the Strollers will return to their real home in Meggatland to host bottom of the table strugglers Melville Rovers in league duty.