This was always going to be a tough test for Carluke Rovers against the league leaders and unbeaten Neilston Juniors. The game was played at Neilston on a very heavy pitch which was not going to be conducive to good football. It was also a first start for experienced new signing Garry Fleming who started the game positioned in front of central defence.
The game kicked off with Carluke playing with the wind and as early as the 2nd minute they were awarded a penalty. Gary Livingstone took a free kick on the right mid way inside the Neilston half. The ball fell to Lewis Hill and his attempted shot was blocked by the arm of a Neilston defender. The Referee did not hesitate in pointing to the spot although the decision did look harsh on Neilston. The spot kick was duly converted by Eddie Haley to make the score 1-0 to Carluke.
This was a bit of a shock to Neilston and they attempted to hit back immediately in the 4th minute when the ball broke to Kieran Brophy in the Rovers box but his shot was brilliantly saved by the feet of Dean Wilson to maintain the narrow lead.
As the half progressed Neilston were starting to dominate possession and it came as no surprise when in the 22nd minute they snatched an equaliser. A corner was played in from the left and when the ball broke to Dylan Fletcher his shot from outside the box found the bottom corner through a ruck of players.
At this point Neilston had a stranglehold on the game and it only took them 2 minutes to increase their lead. A ball crossed in from the right broke to a Neilston striker on the 18 yard line and he rolled the ball to the side for the onrushing Connor Bolger who coolly slotted home. 2-1 to Neilston.
Neilston’s tails were now up and in the 28th minute calamitous defending handed Neilston their third goal on a plate. As the ball was running over the byeline for a corner Rovers attempted to keep it in play. However this was only to the benefit of Neilston who picked up on the loose ball and the resultant shot nearly looped over the keeper but he just managed to keep it out as it was dropping. Unfortunately for the Rovers the ball fell to the feet of Adam Forde who had the simplest of tasks to make the score 3-1 to Neilston. This was to be the score at halftime.
Carluke knew they had a to get a good start in the second half if they were to get back into this game and it nearly came in the 46th minute. A through ball was picked up by Eddie Haley but his resultant shot lacked any power and was directly at the Keeper. This miss was to be rued as Neilston immediately knocked the ball long where it was picked up on the right wing. The resultant cross from the byeline was only parried by Wilson in the Carluke goal onto the head of Adam Forde who had the easiest of tasks to knock the ball into the empty net. 4-1 to Neilson.
It was at this stage that all associated with Carluke Rovers feared the worst particularly with Neilston playing with the wind and down a slight incline on a very heavy surface. However at this point Manager Mark Weir decided to make both personnel and a positional change with Mark Cassidy moving back to central defence.
These change were to have a positive effect and on top of that Garry Fleming, in his first game for some time, was getting his second wind and orchestrating things in the middle. Carluke were fighting back and were equal to Neilston in that second half. They got the rewards for their efforts in 73rd minute when a long ball from Carluke Man of the Match, Gary Livingstone found Lewis Hill on the edge of the box. He danced past a tackle but was brought down inside the box. Lewis, who has been prolific from the spot in his junior career, took no time to slot the ball away making it 4-2.
Carluke sensed there was at least another goal from them in this game but they were dealt a cruel blow in the 74th minute when Garry Fleming was shown a straight red card for, what the Referee deemed, serious foul play. It looked very harsh on him as a booking would have sufficed under the circumstances. This effectively removed any chance Carluke had of at least making it interesting and the game petered out from there with Neilston running out 4-2 winners.
Although results have been poor recently the team have competed well for a half in both games against the top two teams in the League. As the management team use this season to build for next the signs are good that the Club are moving in the right direction with a good squad of players and management team under Mark Weir.
The team now take a well earned break from competitive football with the next league game being against Gartcairn on 9th January.Match Report to follow
Photography by Kevin Ramage