They were odds-on favourites to overcome the challenge of Gala but now, having seen what the Lowland League outfit have to offer, they will not relish the long hurl to replay the tie at Netherdale where the odds are likely to have shifted significantly in the Borderers’ favour and perhaps more significantly, when the home side are likely to start more confidently than they did this time.
That United twice battled back from behind to level this game is to their credit but the fact remains that they should never have allowed themselves to have been in that position in the first place.
They started well on the front foot and for the first half of the opening spell had the visitors firmly hemmed into their own territory at the Meldrum end.
Such was the pressure that they forced eight corners without reply in the first ten minutes.
After a break by Greig down the left Gala were in some disarray to scramble his cross away from the goal mouth for a corner. That bobbed about in the danger area for long enough before a rather desperate attempt to drive it out for a corner by Knight saw the ball whizz inches wide of Norton’s left stick.
Wood and Park worked well to pressure any defenders’ possession and it was looking good for United.
Balls from wide on each side provided half chances for Wood, Greig, Rodger, Norris and Kelly but sheer weight of numbers meant that shots on goal rebounded from a heavily congested six-yard box.
Gala left Murray alone up front but fly as a bag of monkeys he continually made space for himself.
Once or twice Gala got the ball to him and each time he showed menace, but with United continuing to press without applying the finishing touch, the bulk of play continued in visitor territory.
Gala made the odd foray forward and showed that once they got the ball into United’s midfield, they not only could hold it well but shape decent attacks thereafter.
After 20 minutes or so had passed, Gala began to see more midfield action and with United struggling to contain them when they did, the tide started to turn.
In the 36th minute Taylor-MacKenzie wriggled past a couple of tackles to get the ball out left to Murray, continued to progress to the edge of the box, accepted the return and thumped the ball low past Main from 18 yards out and changed the game entirely.
Gala became an attacking force thereafter and play opened right out.
United pressed for a quick equaliser but to no avail as Fairydean showed the capacity to work the ball quickly to and through midfield and gave as good as they got until the interval.
They restarted on the front foot but United were able enough to resist the pressure and in a much more open game got scope to attack from deeper positions. They needed a quick equaliser and got it in the 49th minute.
Spreading play wide, Lawrence found Greig on the left who whipped the ball across the area to find Rodger, who fed Wood in the six-yard box. The big striker delivered instantly.
Play was evenly spread now with Gala showing the ability to retain possession and shape attacks.
Berry twice tested Main from about 20 yards’ range and it stretched but failed to beat the keeper.
Countering a short spell of United pressure, Gala broke right through the United midfield and defence.
Taylor-Mackenzie set up Berry for a break through the centre before he fed Campbell to his left for a thumping 20-yarder that beat Main to leave United again chasing the game.
Park got them back on terms with a vital strike in the 77th minute. United were pushing hard and with subs Lisle and Leyden on for Greig and Norris, direct running by Lisle and Wood produced just enough of a gap for the ex-Cove man to ram the ball home from eight yards.
The two sides will meet again this Saturday in the replay at Gala’s Netherdale Park where a winner must be decided.