Bathgate travelled to Volunteer Park, Armadale, for a sensational derby match-up in the McBookie.com East Premier League.
A fantastic crowd inside Volunteer Park yesterday witnessed what must go down as one of the most incredible finishes to a Bathgate-Armadale derby in the history of this fixture. Bathgate travelled to ‘The Volley’ on the back of a disappointing defeat in midweek to Arniston. Armadale had won their last two matches against Lochee Utd and Dalkeith respectively.
This match, as though it needed it, carried extra spice for Bathgate as several of the players could count Armadale amongst their former clubs. Michael Watson, Stewart McLeod and in-form striker Robbie Feeney were all familiar to the home team. With both home grounds lying a mere 2.5 miles apart this was indeed as local a derby as you could get.
Bathgate, in their black strips, kicked off to got things underway. The drumming section in the home support were making themselves heard and the atmosphere was buzzing. An early foul by Armadales’ Russell on Bathgates’ Kyle Nicoll set the tone for the early exchanges. In typical fashion no-one was willing to give a yard in this fixture. The ball was being keenly fought for all over the park. There wasn’t much goalmouth action and the game was being played in midfield.
Armadale suffered a disappointment after just 7 minutes when Russell seemed to pull up with a hamstring injury. He received treatment to see if he could continue but it became clear that his match was over and he was replaced.
Armadales tactics were clear as they were opting for the long ball up and over the defence whenever possible. Darren MacIssac and Hassan Nyang though were extremely comfortable when dealing with these balls and time and again the ball was ending up safe in the hands of Watson in goals. However, after 15 minutes, a routine backpass by Nyang was left short and Watson was left in a footrace with Armadale’s Downie. Watson got to the ball first and the ball was cleared but the warning signs were there. As easy as they were finding things at the back Bathgate could not afford to let their concentration levels drop.
Just a minute later Bathgate took the lead. Some excellent play between Darren McIntosh and McLeod on the right hand side of the area presented a shooting opportunity for the number 7; his fierce strike was deflected behind for a corner. Bathgate sent Nyang forward to add his considerable presence in the box and he managed to head the corner towards goal. It looked as though this effort may have crossed the line but the referee stayed silent. However, MacIsaac was on hand to finish the loose ball and there was no mistake this time as the net bulged to give Bathgate first blood in the derby.
Bathgate were boosted by the goal and started to take command of the midfield. Stephen Easton had started well and his quick feet were allowing him to get away from the opposition midfield into very good areas. On one such occasion he found himself 20 yards out and took the opportunity to shoot. Armadale’s keeper got down to his left hand side and made the save.
Bathgate were beginning to press their opponents back. McLeod in particular was working hard and chasing balls down, obviously keen to make an impression on his former club.
Gordon Harris was then on the end of a heavy challenge from the Dale’s Taylor and he found himself in the book. To both sets of players credit this match was as ultra-competitive as you might expect but never dirty.
Graham Baird for Bathgate was his usual hard-working self, winning plenty of balls and shouting instructions to his team to ensure that their levels did not drop. Armadale when they were winning possession were letting their good work slip by playing it long and out of play.
On 27 minutes Bathgate won a foul on the left flank, parallel with the 18 yard line, and Harris swung a dangerous delivery into the box. Robbie Feeney flung himself towards the ball to win a header and was unfortunate to see his effort squirt through to the back post and out for a bye-kick. Two minutes later Easton gathered the ball and drove to the line. He delivered an excellent cross to Feeney whose shot was excellently saved by the Armadale keeper. His reaction showed he was desperate to get on the scoresheet today of all days. His strike partner Jaconelli was struggling to make an impact in the game as he was well marked by the defenders around him but his moment would come.
Armadale started to steadily get more and more into the game. Their midfield players were having more possession of the ball and they started to vary their play by playing the ball wide to their wingers. Bathgate’s full backs, McIntosh and Nicoll, were standing up well to the pressure though and again the closest Armadale came to threatening was when another passback put the keeper under pressure. His clearance went straight to a Dale player but nothing came of it.
Bathgate had learnt from the previous games’ disappointment of losing a goal just before half time and they ensured that they held the advantage as the teams went up the tunnel at the end of the first half. HT 0-1
Armadale re-started the match and it became apparent very quickly that their tactics had been changed. Their manager would have been acutely aware that they were getting absolutely no joy from their constant long balls and his side were keeping the ball on the deck in an effort to get something out of the game.
On 53 minutes, some intricate play on the edge of the Bathgate box led to a lay off to Thomson. He struck a fine drive and Watson made an excellent save to deny an equaliser. The away side had yet to get started in the second period and the change of tact by the home team was taking some time to adapt to. A couple of minutes later McIntosh of Bathgate cleared a dangerous cross but it went to Pusledzki who controlled the ball and with his back to goal, and 25 yards out, he tried an audacious hooked shot over his shoulder that only just went wide of the right post.
This encouraging start to the half gave the drumming section of the home support renewed vigour and the atmosphere was being cranked up again. These matches may not attract the profile of the senior derbies of the game in Glasgow and Edinburgh but try telling the fans, or players for that matter, of both these clubs that they do not mean as much!
Armadale continued to try and build from midfield and by the hour mark they were on top. Bathgate skipper Baird again shouted encouragement to his players but it was Armadale who continued to threaten. On 69 minutes, a strike from inside the left hand side of the box struck the upright of the Bathgate goal and when the equaliser came two minutes later it was no surprise.
Thomson of Armadale won the ball and bore down on goals. Watson saved well from his hot but the defence could not work the ball clear and a clash of legs in the box after a free-for-all saw the referee award a penalty for an infringement. Pusledzki stood over the ball and his low shot sent the goalie the wrong way. The home fans roared in delight and urged their side to go on and get more.
Armadale appeared lucky to keep their full complement of players on the field as McLeod was the subject of a crunching challenge on the half way line. Two players tackled him strongly from either side and Armadale’s number 6, who was already on a yellow, was fortunate to escape further censure on his part. Bathgate manager Colley then made a change when Easton was replaced by Rhys Minnock in an attempt to introduce greater pace on the wings and try and lift some pressure from his team.
On 78 minutes Armadale went ahead in the match. Again, it had been coming. The home side were trying to play more and more down the wings to get crosses into the box and one of these caused havoc when it went towards the Bathgate goal. It was cleared off the line but fell to a home player who gratefully snapped up the opportunity to put his side into the lead. If the energy from the crowd was warm before then now it was white hot as the fans sensed that a famous win (and of course a vital one as far as their league status was concerned) now seemed like a real possibility.
Away gaffer Colley acted immediately. He replaced McIntosh, who had had a really good game, with another forward, Ross Young. He screamed at his players to get the ball forward to his three-pronged attack at every opportunity as the salvage operation went into full swing. And yet, Armadale had a great opportunity to seal it. Thomson, who had impressed all game, received a ball into the centre of the area but his contact was poor and instead of lacing the ball towards goal it glanced off his boot and harmlessly wide.
All seemed lost for Bathgate. What had looked like a win after the first half performance had somehow contrived to look like becoming a defeat to their big rivals. That was until a long ball over the defence was chased down by Feeney. His pace was too much for the Aramdale defence to cope with so late in the game and as he bore down on goal with 18 yards to go he placed an absolutely sensational, controlled finish past the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net. It was a strike of real quality and as he fell to the floor and was bombarded with his jubilant team-mates it appeared that Bathgate had salvaged a precious point. The away fans in the crowd were making themselves known and the drummers fell silent in the enclosure.
And yet, the drama was not over. 6 minutes of added time was being played and Bathgate, their tails up, were still attacking. Not content with rescuing the draw in this most important of fixtures they were looking for a winner. And they got it.
A long throw by Nyang sent the ball down towards the Armadale area. McLeod played a great pass into Jaconelli inside the left hand side of the penalty box. Surrounded by Armadale players he produced a finish that you will go a long way to see its equal in the game, regardless of the level. As he managed to get the ball on to his right side he connected with the outside of his right boot and with just the right combination of power and skill he exquisitely lobbed it over the outstretched keeper into the top right hand corner of the net. It was a goal out of the very top drawer and if seen in any game would have been fit to win it. To produce it in the last minute of a massive derby, when your side had been trailing just five minutes earlier elevated this into dreamland territory. He had not had teh best of games and in truth had struggled to make his presence felt but, boy, his contribution was vital and brilliant in equal measures. He disappeared under a mountain of black shirts and the win was secured. Breathtaking.
The game ended and the home side will have been disappointed to have lost from the position they held but Bathgate will remember this famous win for a long, long time. FT 2-3
Bathgate skipper Graham Baird said after the match, ‘It was some climax at the end. The game had its ups and downs but what a good feeling. We thought we had threw it away but to pull it back like that just showed the spirit the boys had . It was great character from them. At 2-2 we weren’t settling for the draw and it was a just a great feeling.’
Manager Andrew Colley was delighted saying, ‘It was nerve-wracking but the boys are bouncing. They were brilliant to be honest to grind out the result. Armadale had the game in the second half. We had started well and coped with things but in the second half they changed the tactics and we lost our shape. I changed the formation in the last 10 minutes. We went 3-4-3 and it paid off with two great goals. All the praise to the boys. They deserve it.’ He added, ‘I looked at my watch and the game was finished. I’m not sure where the 6 minutes came from to be honest. But they kept pressing and pressing to the final whistle and though we would have probably taken the draw to then get the winner was terrific. I really hope Armadale have a good finish to the season and stay in this league because teams like ours need these games, so I wish them well.’