Carluke Rovers travelled the short distance to Stonehouse to take on Royal Albert who were pointless after their first 6 league games and sat bottom of the Division. For their part Carluke were still missing a few key players but still fielded what on paper was a strong team.
The game got underway in blustery conditions on a perfect surface which were not to play a significant part on the outcome of the game. The first chance of the match fell to Carluke when Stephen Larkin turned inside the box and saw his shot go past the left hand post. This was followed in the 9th minute when Mark O’Rourke of Royal Albert similarly had a shot which went past the Rovers left hand post.
In the 13th minute good interplay between Allan Campbell and Declan Sloan on the edge of the Rovers box saw the ball fall to Scott Ballantyne who put his shot past the post from around the penalty spot when it was easier to score. A let off for Carluke.
The game was being played at a high tempo without any Keeper having a save to make but in the 19th minute the Albert Keeper Scott Sommerville challenged for the ball just outside his box with Paul Donaghy of Carluke and although he cleared the ball with his head he was adjudged by the Referee to have followed through with his knee in the back of Donaghy. The Referee immediately brandished the red card and he was sent off although it did seem a little harsh. Fortunately for Royal Albert they had a substitute keeper on the bench who immediately came on to replace one of the outfield players.
Unfortunately for him though it would only be a very short time before he was picking the ball out of his net as the resultant free kick from Mark Weir hit off the post with the rebound finding Stuart Mitchell who had his shot slightly deflected into the bottom corner of the net. 1-0 Carluke.
Bottom of the league, down 1-0 and down to 10 men the thought amongst the Carluke supporters was that this would be a case of how many and three easy points. However Royal Albert had other ideas and it was difficult to tell they were at a disadvantage as the half wore on. In fact they would only have to wait 10 minutes to get their equaliser when a great free kick on the left was met by the unmarked Jack Baptie whose header looped over the stranded Brown in the Rovers goal to make the score 1-1.
The game was flowing from end to end with half chances being created but in the 45th minute Carluke were dealt a hammer blow when Royal Albert took an unlikely lead. O’Rourke got the ball outside the box and managed to evade Mark Cassidy threading the ball through to Allan Campbell who curled a lovely left foot shot past the Carluke Keeper from inside the box. 2-1 Royal Albert.
Carluke were to have one last chance to go in at half on level terms but it was spurned when Maxime Neossi diverted a Mark Weir shot over the bar from close range. Half Time 2-1 Royal Albert.
In recent matches Carluke have played much better in the second half than in the first and it was to be hoped that this would be the case again today. The half got underway after a deluge during the break and it was Carluke who were to show first when a scramble in the Albert box saw the ball knocked to the edge where Mark Weir let fly with his left foot only to see the ball go past the right hand post.
This was quickly followed by a through ball to Paul Donaghy who beat the Albert centre half but saw his shot, with the outside of his left foot, squirm past the left hand post. It was all Carluke at this stage with the 10 men of Royal Albert being pinned back in their own half. In the 57th minute a Stephen Larkin shot was cleared off the line followed by a Stuart Mitchell shot over the Albert bar.
However just as Carluke were starting to believe the equaliser was imminent in the 69th minute Royal Albert got a free kick on the right outside the box. The ball was floated to the back post where it was headed back across the goal to be met by the boot of Kieran Fleming who volleyed the ball past Adam Brown in the Carluke goal. 3-1 Royal Albert.
This was a major setback for Rovers but they continued to push to try and find a way back into the game with time running out. The onslaught towards the Royal Albert goal continued but due to numbers defending there was very little space to create any clear cut chances. In fact it took till the 92nd minute for Carluke to get what would turn out to be a consolation goal when another goalmouth scramble resulted in Stephen Larking toe poking the ball over the line from close range to make it 3-2 to Royal Albert.
To Carluke’s credit they continued to push in the dying couple of minutes but it was too little too late and when the Ref blew the final whistle the relief in the Royal Albert ranks was palpable. The game finished 3-2 and no one could grudge Royal Albert their first points of the season with a gutsy back to the walls’ performance in the second half.
For Carluke it is a case of dusting themselves down and trying to recover some of the damage next week when they face Wishaw at the Beltane.Match Report by Stevie Kane
Photography by Kevin Ramage