It was certainly a day of entertainment at the Volunteer Park on Saturday. The large gathering at the pre-match lunch enjoyed the feast laid on by Moira Black and her helpers and then were thoroughly enthralled by the amazing recollections and amusing stories of Ian Barnes. With top-of-the-table Preston Lodge looking certainties for a comfortable victory, the high level of entertainment continued on the field as the Linden put in a heroic effort to upset the form book and push their visitors all the way where some second half decisions proved crucial in not pulling off the ultimate shock.
There was an early setback for the home team when Jamie Gilchrist had to leave the field with an ankle injury but it didn’t stop the Linden from applying early pressure which unfortunately they couldn’t turn in to points. A penalty kick was missed and then, following a Craig Smith offload, taken on well by Greg Cunningham and Conor Tofts, Craig Russell found stand-off Kirk Ford whose dink kick through agonizingly ran into touch in goal.
Following a penalty miss by Preston Lodge, the visitors opened the scoring after 25 minutes. The Linden failed to clear their lines, PL pulled in the home defence and, when the ball was spread wide, Peter Johnston sped over for a try converted by Graeme Paterson. It was the visitors turn to apply some pressure but some great defence by the Royal Blues saw the half close with Preston Lodge 7-0 ahead.
The Linden’s Craig Russell was forced to retire at half-time to be replaced by Sean Goodfellow. The second half started well for the Volunteer side as Kirk Ford struck over a nice penalty kick. Four minutes later and the Linden were in front with a cracking try. Ford took a quick 22 drop-out to himself and fed Shaun Fairbairn. When the ball was recycled, Ford’s miss pass hit Greg Thomson at pace on his own 10 metre line. The full-back went through a gap and found Sean Goodfellow on his inside who raced over for a try which brought the virtually full stand to its feet.
Preston Lodge responded quickly. Craig Smith had been a nuisance to the visitor’s line out but was penalised for jumping early. PL tapped the free kick and a well-judged cross kick was gathered by Finlay Hughes who went over in the corner. Soon after Smith became the third Linden player to succumb to injury and Will Baxter entered the fray.
This didn’t deter the home side as Ford went on a lovely run and released Conor Gracie who was tackled just short but a knock on failed to bring a score. It was all Linden at this stage as they were camped on the visiting line. Thrice they decided to take quick penalties when goal kicks were on, two in front of the posts, any of which would have put the Linden ahead. Their pressure continued though and Ford went off on another great run and sliced through to go over only for the score to be ruled out for crossing.
After all the Linden’s territory and possession came to naught, the sucker punch arrived on 68 minutes as Preston Lodge worked their way up the other end and a line-out catch and drive saw Bruce Stoddart credited with the try. Soon after Keith Mabon was penalised at a ruck outside the 22 when the ball appeared to be out and he seemed to come through the gate. To add insult to injury he was yellow carded, Preston Lodge kicked to touch and Stoddart repeated his act of three minutes earlier.
It was a decision which caused debate given how many penalties PL had conceded on their own line in the first half that did not bring about any further sanction. It must be said though, that referee Tony Leighton had an otherwise excellent game more than matching the high standard of play.
With the clock running down Preston Lodge did receive a yellow card when a Linden player was taken out off the ball. Despite their best efforts the Linden couldn’t salvage even a losing bonus point which was the least they deserved for a heroic display that shocked the League leaders and perhaps even some of their own supporters. It would be unfair to single anyone out from a team performance where every player from 1 to 19 put in a huge shift raising their game to a level not previously shown this season. Although they only have two wins from seven, a repeat effort would see the Linden capable of beating any side in the League.
HAWICK LINDEN: G Thomson, P MacTaggart, S Williams, C Russell, C Gracie, K Ford, R Hamilton; J Gilchrist, B Mercer, T Skeet, J Hogg, K Mabon, C Smith, G Cunningham, S Fairbairn; Subs: W Barker, D Kyle, C Tofts, S Goodfellow.