Gala Fairydean Rovers 1

East Kilbride 2

David Knox at Netherdale

KILBY boss Billy Stark admitted his league-leading team were fortunate to nab the points at Netherdale.

And the former Scotland gaffer believes the hosts will be a serious threat to the top teams for the rest of this season when they are back to full strength.

Despite being without more than half a dozen players, the Fairydean Rovers had more than matched the defending champions for most of Saturday’s thriller.

Only the introduction of former Celtic attacker Kieran Campbell in the closing stages swung the game East Kilbride’s way.

Stark told us: “I never expected an easy game down here but I knew Gala were without quite a few players.

“I was pleased Stuart Noble wasn’t playing as I had him with me at St Johnstone and know what he can do to defences.

“We did create a few chances in the first half and it shows when you don’t take them what can happen.

“After Gala went in front we were chasing the game and they were resilient. Bringing on our substitutes gave us more energy and helped us get the win.

“I like the Gala team – the two Hibs boys are good players and I know Sean Paliczka from when he played semi-professional.

“When they have everyone back they will beat a lot of teams in this league – Gala, for me, will finish in the top five or six.”

With only 13 available players from his squad of 22, manager Steven Noble was forced to register himself as a player in the build up to Saturday’s match.

Despite the numerical shortfall, his players certainly rose to the challenge against unbeaten Kilby.

Jamie Gullan, who is on loan from Easter Road along with Adam Watson, and Billy Miller both went close in the opening quarter of an hour as the hosts scurried around the park to force mistakes and create openings.

But they were given a warning with Kilby’s first proper attack on 16 minutes.

From a cleverly-worked corner the ball fell for Declan Hughes who smashed it against the underside of the bar from 15 yards out.

Liam Coogans also had an opportunity to fire the visitors in front approaching the half hour but Adam Strachan’s low cross somehow got stuck under his feet in front of goal.

Gala continued to work hard across the park with David Bonnar, Darren Smith, Paliczka and Watson all covering acres of ground.

Just after the half hour Smith burst from midfield to fire a foot over.

But Ross McNeil, who is the league’s top scorer, went even closer at the other end with a header which clipped the top of the crossbar.

Gala’s opener came just four minutes after the interval with Smith drilling Bonnar’s lay-off into the bottom corner of the net from all of 30 yards out.

It was a stunning strike, and deserving of winning any match.

And for a while the goal seemed to instil even more belief in the home ranks as both Watson and Millar smashed shots just wide of the target from outside the area.

The introduction of Campbell, along with Michael Anderson, proved pivotal as Kilby began creating chances again.

The equaliser came on 73 minutes as Campbell broke from the half way line to square to Anderson who found a gap at the far post to beat Lewis Muir.

Campbell also shot inches wide of the post as Gala’s defence was becoming stretched.

And in the 82nd minute Kilby finally went in front.

David Brown was judged to have tripped Campbell inside the area and Strachan slotted home the resultant penalty.

Rather than accept defeat, though, Noble’s team went chasing a late equaliser.

Only a terrific save from Jacob Kean prevented Millar scoring after he’d held off two challenges.

And in the final minute Kieran Ainslie grazed the crossbar with a header from a corner.

Gala manager Noble said: “I feel absolutely gutted not to have taken something from that match.

“We knew they had quality but we were every bit as good and for a while looked as though we would win it.

“It was a great effort from my players and I can’t ask them to give me anything more.”

Gala Fairydean Rovers. L Muir, L Stephen, G Windram, S Guiney, K Ainslie, D Bonnar, D Smith, S Paliczka (D Brown 75), B Miller, J Gullan & A Watson.