Edinburgh & Leith edged out in opening-day thriller

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Edinburgh & Leith, despite carving out an early advantage, lost by two shots against West Lothian in a thrilling opening match in the East section of the Cities & Counties bowls Championship at Pumpherston.

Playing for the Andrew Hamilton Trophy, West Lothian clinched a 110-108 victory in a knife-edge climax having battled back from 11 shots down with six ends to play against an E&L side that failed to find a killer touch.

E&L managed to win on the rinks skipped by James Hogg and team captain Billy Mellors but were unable to contain the sometimes-brilliant play served up by the WL rinks skipped by Steven Fleming, Calum Logan, Raymond Logan and John Aitken. Yet it had looked so different in the opening exchanges with the visitors from the Capital settling down well to the occasion and taking a 28-15 lead after four ends.

“It was an excellent start and a great confidence builder so I was hoping we could kick on from there but the best we could manage was to hold our own for the next five ends to show 53-41 ahead approaching half game,” said E&L team manager Willie Watson.

West Lothian emerged from their sluggish start to claim a 10-0 count across the six rinks on the tenth end and, with the scoreboard now showing a dramatic change to just 53-51 in favour of E&L, it signalled “game on”.

E&L responded to this mid-match test of their resolve by with a gritty revival that edged them back into a double figure lead (88-77) after 16 ends. With the business end of the 21-end match fast approaching, it was West Lothian that raised their game to a level high enough to tip the scales their way with a 33-20 finish.

“I felt we competed well for a long spell but failed to put in a strong finish when asked the big questions approaching the finishing line,” said Watson.

It was also the first game in charge for West Lothian manager Jimmy Mallon, so he was thrilled to have won such an important tie against strong opposition, despite being without big guns Neil Speirs, Thomas Mann, George Sneddon and Andy Dunnett. “We weathered an early storm then showed the will to win that I am demanding from the players and in the end I thought we had a hungrier appetite for success,” said Mallon.

Mallon’s views were heavily influenced by the performance of his captain, Logan, who came under intense pressure at 17-9 down after 15 ends to Alan Trotter, Robert Donaldson, Jamie Gracie and Willie McDonald. Rather than fold, Logan managed to inspire by skipping Frazer Muirhead, Paul Lynas and Bryan Cooper to a spectacular finishing run of 1, 3, 3, (1), 2, 3 to snatch a 21-18 win. Logan’s son, Calum, was also in top form with the 22-year-old contributing a flying finish of 3, 1, 2, (1), 1 to skip Ewan Shearer, Kenny Black and Blair Mackie to a 21-16 win over Neil Watson, Andy Sneddon, Colin Hutchison, and Paul O’Donnell. Stand-in skip Steven Fleming was another WL hero with a mighty count of 5 at the 18th end, and he then skipped Diz Drysdale, Walter McDougall and James Speirs to a 22-13 victory over the E&L flagship rink of Craig Paterson, John McDermott, Alan Brown and Robert Marshall.

John Aitken completed the WL four-timer having shown typical resolve to recover from 8-1 down and skip Ian Humble, Sandy McDougall and Davy McCormick to an 18-16 victory over Craig McCall, Kevin Hunter, Paul Veitch and Mal Higgenbotham.

E&L captain Billy Mellors skipped David Brown, Stuart Campbell and Alex Hurry to a 25-11 win over Gary Smith, while James Hogg added another E&L smile by skipping Scott Noble, Ian Paterson, and Darren Hush to a 20-17 win over Grant Logan.