Clasgow Caley 36

Neath 20

The first Celtic League objective this season having been to make it difficult for visitors to Scotland, the Reds played their part last night as they dominated Neath.

Unimpressive on the road this season, even when they made the short trip to Stirling to face Munster, they could hardly have looked more at home at refurbished Hughenden.

''The big thing the Welsh sides have over us is the size of the crowds and the partisan nature of it which galvanises teams, so it is pleasing to see people beginning to come here,'' Reds coach Richie Dixon observed afterwards.

''We have to build this place and McDiarmid Park into those sort of strongholds.

''We need to get to the stage that people want to come here, and if we can create that sort of atmosphere, it can give us the confidence to take with us to Wales.''

By the end, the Glasgow crowd was responding to the efforts of a Reds side led impressively by Gordon Bulloch.

His senior lieutenants also shouldered their responsibilites manfully, Gordon Simpson and Rowen Shepherd among the most impressive members of an abrasively urgent side, while the skipper's brother, Alan, recently capped No.8 Jon Petrie and revitalised James Craig were the pick of the youngsters.

''I put a lot of pressure on them after Bridgend because they could have done that there,'' said Dixon, with particular reference to the senior men following Tuesday's 49-27 defeat.

''There were still times tonight that we slackened off a bit, but at Bridgend we slackened of a lot. The periods are getting shorter though, and our defence was much sharper tonight, closing the space down much quicker.''

Desperate as they were to get off to a good start, the Reds were presented with an opportunity in the first minute when the Neath backs were caught offside, but, from 40 metres out, on the left Mark McKenzie pulled his penalty attempt wide.

There was no such error from international winger Shane Williams, however, when presented with his first chance from closer but wider.

The response was impressive, however, Alan Bulloch charging out of his own half in typically powerful fashion to be well supported first by Shepherd, then by Jason White, as play was swept deep into the Neath 22.

The ball was then moved left, where Jon Stuart straightened things up before finding Craig cutting infield, and he did well to keep the ball alive and provide fellow winger Jon Steel with the chance to squirm his way over on the left.

This time, from close to the touchline, McKenzie was bang on target to claim full value for the score and he rapidly extended the lead to 13 points with a succession of well struck penalties.

The momentum swung, though, after Jon Steel was rather harshly adjudged to have tackled the diminutive Shane Williams high, allowing Neath to counter from deep in their own territory and eventually earn the penalty opportunity with which Williams reduced the leeway.

Shortly afterwards, Neath stand-off James Brown brought his side back within a score after being given lots of time to measure a 30-metre drop goal, before Williams brought them within a score with his third penalty.

However, the Reds still finished the half very much in the ascendant.

As the match moved into injury time, they were awarded a lineout just inside the Neath 22, and, with Petrie particularly prominent, the pack drove in close under the Neath posts.

With Fleming playing the advantage after a Neath forward strayed offside, the opportunity for a try looked to be over when left winger Craig, busily involving himself wide on the right, was unable to fight his way through.

However, Gordon Bulloch showed imagination, taking a tap penalty under the posts then taking two opponents with him as he drove under the posts for a try easily converted by McKenzie.

The initiative was maintained when, immediately from the re-start, Marty Waite, a first half replacement for Gareth Flockhart, put in a superb smother 22 on Tuipulotu, and when the Tongan refused to release, McKenzie was presented with another easy chance.

However, it was a move that failed to produce a score, which got the crowd properly into the game as the back three all combined to turn a dangerous looking defensive situation into attack, Steel making the break before the back row got involved, Petrie just failing to hang on to a potential scoring pass after great work by fellow Scotland squad member Gordon Simpson.

Even when they did concede a score, there was some satisfaction to be taken from the fact that, with the Neath pack forcing their way in close, the defence held out sufficiently to force Williams to take a penalty from under the posts.

The Reds then took control of the game with another well-worked try. From a lineout just inside the 22, Stuart's fine angled run and was well supported by the pack before the ball was moved wide for Gordon Bulloch to again make inroads.

As the ball was recycled, Graeme Beveridge almost got to the line and, when it was again kept alive, Waite ploughed through the ruck to score close to the posts, McKenzie again converting.

The quality of the Reds defence was again rewarded when, after a sustained spell of Neath pressure, Brown opted for a long-range drop-goal attempt and pushed it wide.

Neath did, however, finally force their way over, Tuipulotu coming up with the ball after their pack mauled their way over following a close range lineout.

However, the Reds were very much the better side throughout, and though they failed to add to their advantage in the final quarter until McKenzie was given a penalty opportunity under the posts inside injury time, they spent much of that period deep in Neath territory and never looked like throwing it away.

With the luxury of seven days in which to reflect on their best performance of the season after this frenetic run of three matches in six days ahead of next week's derby meeting with Edinburgh Reivers, the Reds have time to lick their wounds.

That said, their injury problems again look like getting worse before they improve, Flockhart requiring to visit hospital immediately after the match with a suspected broken jaw.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - R Shepherd; J Steel, A Bulloch, J Stuart, J Craig; M McKenzie, G Beveridge; D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham (L Harrison 65-72), S Griffiths, J White, G Flockhart (M Waite 72), G Simpson, J Petrie

Neath - D Williams; D Williams, D Tuieti, T Davies, S Williams; J Brown, P Horgan; D Jones, M Davies (S Jones 63), A Millward, S Martin, G Llewellyn, K Tuipulotu, R Francis, R Philips.

Referee - J Fleming (Boroughmuir).

Scoring sequence (Reds first): 0-3, 7-3, 10-3, 13-3, 16-3, 16-6, 16-9, 16-12, 23-12 (half-time); 26-12, 26-15, 33-15, 33-20, 36-20.

Scorers: Reds: Tries - Steel (11), Bulloch (40), Waite (51). Conversions - McKenzie (11, 40, 51). Penalties - McKenzie (16, 19, 26, 41, 80). Neath: Try - Tuipulotu (63); Drop goal - Brown (35). Penalties - Williams (8, 32, 39, 48).