Away wins for North Berwick and Gullane set up title showdown
There was more drama on Sunday as the 1st Division’s top two sides refused to give ground in the title race.
North Berwick made it four wins from four on the road this term when they outlasted their hosts Royal Musselburgh. The home team seemed to have a slight edge for much of the day, at least in the top three ties. And despite North Berwick getting off to a fast start in the bottom two it looked as though Royal were narrow favourites to prevail. But that all changed over the tough closing holes, when some uncharacteristic mistakes from the home side allowed the balance of power to shift.
The top match had been close all the way, but Chris Wood and Ally Simpson took their opportunity when it came to secure a win on the last green, before Craig Hardie and Horry Lawson staged a recovery from 3 down after twelve to beat Harvey Thomson and Craig Cunningham, also on the eighteenth.
Behind them Weston Main and Kevin Messer had seen their early five hole lead shaved to just one, before they managed to claim the seventeenth hole to secure their own match and both points for North Berwick.
But if that result demonstrated North Berwick’s resolve to secure their first ever league title, Gullane showed even more resilience in their escape act away to Tantallon, keeping their own title challenge alive and well.
Two points behind the leaders at the start of the day, skipper Jeff Aitken knew nothing less than a win would do, but the match he witnessed for most of the day showed no signs of delivering that result. This one was every bit as crucial for the hosts whose attentions were more focused on their battle to avoid relegation, and with some solid play from Simon Holt and Shaun Gordon, then Fraser Symon and Michael Davidson, they secured the top two ties relatively comfortably.
Indeed at that point it seemed only a question of where Tantallon’s winning point would come from. With the back two matches close, or slightly in the hosts’ favour, it seemed Gullane’s only bankers were Alan Smith and Ross Thomson, who boarded the sixteenth tee three up on Euan Bowden and home captain Andrew Doig. Yet the visiting pair’s nervy finish gave their onlooking skipper little encouragement as they lost both the sixteenth and seventeenth before Smith was able to hole from six feet on the final green to secure a first point for his team.
But there was renewed hope for Gullane when Rob Jack and Murray Saunders won the seventeenth to go one up. Tantallon’s response wasn’t long in coming as Eddie Danks pitched dead for a birdie at the eighteenth, but Saunders held his nerve to hole from 8 feet for a half to win the match.
The Gullane players might be forgiven for thinking their heroics thus far might still not be enough with the news that Tantallon’s Gregor Munro and Stuart Wimberley had won the fifteenth to go two up in the only remaining tie. But John Clelland and Greg Houlston weren’t about to throw the towel in, and their par 4 was good enough to win the tough sixteenth before two great shots took them to within twelve feet of the hole on the seventeenth. With Wimberley and Munro struggling the birdie putt was not required and the match was level.
And there was more misery for Tantallon on the final hole where two shots only took them to the apron on the short par 4. Unable to do better than par they could only look on as Houlston, like his teammates before him, calmly rolled in his birdie putt from 8 feet.
The win keeps Jeff Aitken’s side two points behind North Berwick and very much in the title race, with all to play for when these two sides meet at Gullane in their next league encounter in three weeks time.