Vale of Leithen 2

Civil Service Strollers 4

David Knox

at Victoria Park

AN air of optimism descended on Victoria Park just before 3pm on Saturday.

Within an hour, though, the harsh realism of relegation had returned after Vale had given up their two-goal half time lead.

While praise must go to the way Civil fought back, the home fans witnessed the best and the worst their team has to offer over the 90 minutes.

Manager Chris Anderson said: “It was a brilliant first half and a terrible second.

“We were dominant and bright in the first half and could have been further in front, but one mistake by our keeper lets them back into it and then we just completely lost our way.

“We can’t keep saying we’re playing well in parts and never getting anything – we need to start picking up points.”

Strollers have been punching above their weight ever since Gary Jardine arrived as manager.

And they are currently hot on the heels of the top three or four.

But for 45 minutes on Saturday they were second best to a well-drilled home team.

Vale had gone close a couple of times before Liam Ireland fired them in front from the penalty spot on 22 minutes.

Referee Alan Newlands had no hesitation pointing to the spot after the impressive Robel Dent’s shot struck the arm of Craig Newall.

The reaction from the visitors was tame with Vale’s defence mopping up attempted through balls with ease.

Both Dent and Lewis Hall forced good saves from Josh Donaldson as the home team continued to press.

And they were rewarded in the 37th minute as player-manager Anderson nodded home a second after a corner hadn’t been cleared.

Everyone in the ground was expecting a reaction from Strollers after the interval as Jardine rung the changes.

But it was Vale who continued to look the most threatening with Ireland firing just wide and Dent continuing to cause bother with his blistering pace.

Approaching the hour, though, Civil’s more direct approach began to pay dividends.

Jack Downie and Cammy Muirhead both tested Ross Gilpin before Josh Morris found the net in the 61st minute.

Just five minutes later Andy Mair nipped in front of Gilpin to head home the equaliser from close range.

Vale temporarily looked like they had stemmed the flow with a few attacks of their own, but with seven minutes remaining a deep angled cross wasn’t cleared and Muirhead was on hand to stroke the ball into the net.

With Vale throwing players forward in the closing stages Jack Hodge completed the comeback in the 94th minute with a breakaway goal.

Civil manager Jardine told us: “Our success has always been by keeping it simple and doing the things we’re good at, but once you try to complicate things it all goes wrong – and that’s what was happening in the first half.

“Vale could have been more than the two goals up and we needed to change things.

“While I couldn’t have been any angrier with how we played in the first half I don’t think I could be prouder of the way we about things in the second half.”

Vale of Leithen. R Gilpin, C Hall, A Imlah, J Wishart, P Thomson, G Rossi (R Higgins 62), R Dent, L Hall, C Anderson (L Smith 67), L Ireland & B Rixon