It was a night to forget for the Caledonian Braves as they missed the chance to close the gap on the top half of the table, losing by five to Gretna 2008 at Alliance Park.
The away side benefitted from three strikes that were quite simply stunning, including a 60-yard lob on the stroke of half time from Lewis McGrattan, an arrow from distance into the top corner from Daniel Smales, and a 30-yard free-kick from Dylan Cairnie.
Gretna’s two other goals came from Dan Harvey and Shaun Rodgers.
It was an even encounter in the opening exchanges, with the Braves’ best openings coming from Jack Smith’s endeavour running the left channel. On both occasions he sought out Blair Docherty on the right wing, the wide man miscuing high and wide on the first attempt and being beat to the crossed ball by the goalkeeper at the second.
Smith himself then found space in the box after 17 minutes and went close with a header across goal, only for the linesman’s flag to be raised anyway. Five minutes later, Smith was in again as the Braves snuffed out a Gretna attack on the edge of the box, allowing Neil McLaughlin to air a terrific ball over the top into the path of the striker. He cut inside and fired a shot low from the edge of the area but it bounced wide of the far post.
After Gretna had their first shot on target via Smales, Braves midfielder McLaughlin then had two attempts at goal himself, the first an audacious effort at lobbing the keeper from the byline a good 40 yards from goal. The ambition very nearly paid off, as it sailed over Taylor but also past the post. Soon after he had a half-volley fly off target.
Gretna’s goal came a few minutes after another chance for Smith went begging, and it put the away side ahead at the break against the run of play. The ball dropped to McGrattan, in his own half, and he cut across it sweetly with the outside of his foot and watched it carry over Scott Marshall and bounce into the net. It was the last meaningful kick of the ball in the first period.
And then four minutes after the restart Gretna added to their lead. If McGrattan took inspiration from McLaughlin’s looping lob attempt, then Smales took similar inspiration from his Gretna teammate. Taking the ball onto his left foot, he whipped a shot that continued to rise until it hit the back of the net in Marshall’s top corner.
Smales hit the bar two minutes later but a third did come for Gretna just after the hour mark when defender Harvey rose highest to nod home a free-kick from close range.
The home side were searching for answers at this point, and Gretna played with confidence and freedom. Their fourth goal was an example of that, as Cairnie opted to take the shot from a 30-yard free-kick, with Marshall only able to get the tips of his glove to the ball before it hit the net to make it 4-0 on 74 minutes.
Gretna’s fifth came on 83 minutes and was a poor goal to concede, but the finish from Rodgers was to be commended. He latched onto the ball in stride, advanced towards goal and then dinked it lightly over Marshall.
The Braves take on Stirling Uni at Alliance Park in their next match on Saturday 14 November.