Preston Athletic boss Craig Nisbet was left shellshocked as his side were edged out 4-3 by Gala Fairydean Rovers at a rain-soaked Pennypit.
The Borders club had raced into a three-goal lead by the interval only for the hosts to peg them back in the second half with Jason Young’s brace and a Robbie Carter strike.
However, Gala’s Stuart Noble had the last laugh as he capitalised on goalkeeper Craig Pennycuick’s error to notch the winner and complete his hat-trick in the final minute of a thrilling tussle.
“It’s difficult being the environment we’re in because we’re in a serious relegation battle,” fumed Nisbet, whose team now trail Selkirk at the foot of the table by two points.
“We’ve put all that effort in after a poor first half. The boys have gone out and done their jobs and then one mistake again costs us. We can’t afford to keep making these mistakes because it’s so frustrating for the other boys around them. Penny [Pennycuick] made about five or six cracking saves before the mistake so it’s the fine margins that are costing us.
“I don’t think there was much between the teams. When it went 3-3, I thought let’s just take a point but I felt we looked in the ascendency so let’s go and try and nick a fourth. The positive we can take from it is we have that never-say-die attitude but we can’t rely on that every week. We should be trying to impose ourselves on teams while it’s still 0-0.”
The home side’s vulnerability was exposed as early as the fourth minute as pacy winger Sean Paliczka left full-back Kenny Erskine for dead and his cross was turned in by Des Sutherland from just a couple of yards following Dave McLeod’s miscue.
The Preston defence were all at sea and Billy Miller’s incisive pass sent Noble through on goal and he clinically dispatched the ball beyond Pennycuick for Rovers’ second after 15 minutes.
Noble’s first of the afternoon was the wake-up call Nisbet’s men needed, Young’s enthusiasm seeing him flash the ball across goal for Carter only for Lewis Swaney to intervene with a last-ditch clearance.
But things went from bad to worse for the Panners on the half-hour mark as Noble was afforded the time to turn ten yards out and pick his spot beyond the Preston No.1.
Winger Stuart Ritchie spurned the chance to reduce the deficit just before the break as he dragged his shot wide from 15 yards, failing to work Kieran Wright in the visitors’ goal.
The home side did, however, find a route back into the match eight minutes after the restart, a neat one-two between Ritchie and striker Fabio Neto before the latter’s shot was deflected into the path of Young, who headed in from close range.
Pennycuick was called into action once again as Rovers tried to respond with a double block from Miller who seem destined to score.
However, the visitors’ nerves were tested with 13 minutes remaining as substitute Reece Cochrane sent Neto charging down the left and he provided the perfect cutback for Young to convert past Wright.
The home side’s dug-out erupted when Carter lifted the ball into the far corner following a sublime pass from Brandon Archibald with just five minutes remaining only for Pennycuick’s untimely error gifting Noble the ball to score right at the death. To compound Preston’s misery, trialist Shaun Conway was shown a dubious red card for a challenge on Sutherland just a minute later.
Preston Athletic: Pennycuick, Erskine (Cochrane 74), Inglis, McLeod, Trialist, O’Rourke, Carter, Henderson (Archibald 31), Neto, Young, Ritchie (Smith 67). Subs: Siegel, Baines, Smith.
Gala Fairydean Rovers: Wright, Stephen, Swaney (Krones 73), Main, Windram, Miller, Smith, Pringle (Clapperton 81), Noble, Sutherland, Paliczka (Bonnington 81). Subs: Common, Aitchison.