Dunbar and Royal promoted while unlucky Haddington miss out
Haddington’s visit to Royal Musselburgh has for some time looked like being the Division 2 decider, and for sheer end-of-season drama Sunday’s showdown didn’t disappoint.
But George Blair’s side weren’t the only visitors at Prestongrange. Dunbar have done well since their home defeat at the hands of Haddington in early December, and have remained in contention despite a draw that required them to play three of their closing four fixtures away. They started the day level on points with the top two, and despite an inferior ‘goal difference’ the meeting of the leading pair meant a win against lowly Thorntree was always going to be good enough for promotion.
So that spelt out a ‘winner-takes-all’ scenario in the showpiece match. But in the event there was no winner, and the tense but dramatic stalemate played out by the top two allowed Dunbar to nip in and steal the title.
Steven Smail and Calum White established a commanding four hole lead on the front nine for the visitors at the top of the order, and duly delivered their point on the 14th green. But with the exception of match 3 it was the home players that had edged ahead in the other ties at the half way stage. Then there was a surge by the visitors when Keith & Lesley Nicholson took the 11th and 12th to level their match before Daryll Souness & Keith Gemmell got back on terms as they left the 13th green. In the anchor match the visitors had narrowed a three hole deficit to just one after 11, whilst the experienced George Blair & David Warner took a 2 hole lead to the 15th tee.
So with one point already in the bag it was advantage Haddington. But the closing holes at Royal Musselburgh are not for the faint hearted, and whilst Nicolson & Nicholson shared out their next four with local club champion Chris Ratcliffe & his partner Kenny Fee to arrive at the 17th all square, it was the home team’s performance over the same stretch in the remaining matches that tipped the scales in their favour. Blair & Warner got stuck in the trees at the difficult 15th, then lost their lead when Stuart Blair and Lindsay Shepherd got up and down for a winning 3 on the next hole. Further back Royal closed out both the 4th and 5th ties on the 16th green, but by that time the Nicholsons were a hole to the good, and Lesley’s fine approach to the eighteenth secured another point for the visitors.
So the scores were locked at 2-2 with the one remaining match all square. The seventeenth was duly halved, and with two long tee shots in play, and players from both teams gathered around the eighteenth green, the stage was set for the finale. Haddington had the better position, Warner’s monster drive finding the left side of the fairway no more than 70 yards from the pin, whilst Stuart Blair’s effort finished in light rough on the right leaving his partner the more awkward approach. Shepherd knew a half would be good enough to see his team promoted, but he didn’t get the contact he wanted and his ball seemed destined for the front bunker that guarded the pin. But the ball landed a foot short of the sand, and despite the soft conditions bounced far enough to clear the trap before coming to rest some 18 feet beyond the flag. In the circumstances George Blair responded well, his pitch finishing a little closer. Stuart Blair’s putt missed left, leaving Warner a 15 foot chance for glory. But the former Lothians Champion couldn’t convert and the points were shared.
So that left the door open for Dunbar. And with two points won early in their match it was only a matter of time before they completed the victory that would secure the title. In the end it was John Archibald and Brian Reid that delivered the decisive point courtesy of their 4/3 win against Steven Fairgrieve & Grant McDonald.
So Dunbar and Royal Musselburgh win promotion, but a quick analysis of how the main Division 2 contenders fared against each other reveals just how unfortunate Haddington were to miss out this year. They recorded home wins against Tantallon and Craigielaw, then announced their title aspirations with a 4-1 victory at Dunbar in early December. Sunday’s bid for a 100% record against the principle title contenders came up just a fraction short, but in a season that started slowly (they suffered early defeats at Whitekirk and Gifford) it was a fraction they simply couldn’t afford. In the latter part of the season they were certainly the strongest team in the lower flight, but that’s where they will be competing once again next term.Meanwhile Longniddry and Kilspindie were confirmed as the teams relegated from Division 1 when they lost narrowly to Gullane and Musselburgh respectively.