VALE OF TEARS
Introductions to these match previews are getting a bit predictable. One again we face first time visitors to Shielfield on Saturday and once again it feels like a crucial must win game.
Our visitors this week are travelling over the Borders from Innerleithen so it could be classed as a Border Derby. This will be only the second time we have played Vale of Leithen in a competitive game, as far as I can make out anyway. The first being a Scottish Cup Preliminary Round tie back in 1966/67 when we met over at Innerleithen and we ran out 8 - 1 winners (as a point of note Chirnside also featured in that round, losing 7 - 1 at home to Elgin City). Of course if you note the season you will realise that was the victory that started our journey to that most famous of days, making Vale a part of the story that made us famous world wide.
Vale are one of the Borders oldest clubs, forming in 1891 and originally they were named Leithen Vale but that only lasted two games. They have played at Victoria Park in the town since 1922. As they near their centenary at the ground Vale face challenges now seen across the country thanks to the SFA's licensing rules. They need to get floodlights in place by next summer or face a future with no entry to the Scottish Cup and their league status threatened. Only this week a meeting was held featuring Vale, Leithen Rovers and Leithen Vale with other interested parties into progressing the issue and the wider issue of sporting facilities in the town. They are now looking at getting planning permission in before the end of the year for floodlights. The long term aim is to create a sporting hub for all the town's football teams and other sports. Ambitious plans for a town of only 2,500 people and caught between Gala and Peebles were funding tends to be directed. It will be quite a task for them to raise the funds though hopefully they will knocking on some sympathetic doors and will get assistance from the council. I say, hopefully, as I find it difficult not to have some sympathy for a small town like Innerleithen punching well above weight especially when compared to some of the football teams from larger Borders towns. Berwick fans will always look favourably on Innerleithen for no reason other than the fact that one of our most liked and loyal players of recent years hailed from the town.
Vale won the East of Scotland League four times before becoming founder members of the Lowland League - way back in 1924/25, then more than 50 years later in consecutive seasons 77/78 and 78/79 with their final Championship party in 86/87. Life in the Lowland has been hard for them - they started of with a sixth place finish but the last four seasons have seen three 13th and one 15th place finish.
This season has been a struggle with their only victory being a 3 -1 away win at Dalbeattie at the end of September and they have never been out of the bottom two. Goalscoring was a significant problem for them early on with only two goals coming in their first eight games, this has improved though with 8 goals in the last five games - Liam Ireland and Brad Rixon being the men to watch out for.
While every game is crucial it doesn't feel like an overstatement to say this could be a season defining game for both clubs. We currently sit five points above them with two games in hand, with Vale bottom and only Gretna and Edinburgh Uni between us. Gretna travel to EK tomorrow and the Uni are at Kelty so you would imagine it is a chance for us to get some breathing space on the bottom three, equally Vale will see it as a chance to get of the bottom.
After Tuesday night's postponement due to a water logged pitch and given the amount of rain that has fallen since with more predicted there will be a precautionary pitch inspection in the morning. If the game goes ahead conditions underfoot may very well have an impact on the game. You would expect the pitch to be fairly greasy and to cut up. No excuse though with the old cliche of it being the same for both teams applying. This is a game where we need big performances all over the pitch.