A PROFLIGATE performance by the under-20s cost them their place in the North Caledonian Cup as they went out of the competition at Halkirk United.
Stuart Finnie’s side created numerous chances in this rearranged tie on the Naver all-weather surface in Thurso but a failure to convert saw them eliminated.
Finnie said: “We should be sitting here looking forward to a winnable semi-final tie but instead we are out of the competition and that is down to poor decision-making and basic mistakes at both ends of the park.
“We have created more than enough chances to win the game and we should not be conceding goals in the manner that we did. There is no point in playing nice football if you cannot get the basics right and too many individual errors are costing us. We have conceded 12 goals in three games now and that is unacceptable.”
He added: “Because the game was rearranged at such short notice, we have come up here without eight of our squad due to work commitments as they are all still at school so have Saturday jobs. We are then without everyone who was involved in the first team squad but that is no excuse as the team we travelled with was more than capable of winning the tie.
“We brought in Tyler Eadie and Ciaran Young from the under-17s and we have brought in another local player, Sean McWilliams from Inverness CT. They all played and did really well and it is now up to the players who missed out to earn their places back in the team.
“We also asked some players to play in unfamiliar positions like Sam Gordon at wing back and Sam Campbell in centre midfield and they got on with it without complaining and did a good job for the team which is the attitude we are looking for.
“It is disappointing to be out of the competition but we wish Halkirk well for the next round and for the rest of the season and thank them for their hospitality.”
McWilliams should have marked his debut with the opener on 16 minutes after being played through on goal but his effort was touched inches past the post by Halkirk goalkeeper, Sean Milligan.
Milligan was called into action again on 25 minutes to beat away Ryan MacBean’s angled effort from the right before Eadie cut in from the left and blasted over the crossbar from 18 yards out two minutes later.
Nairn were caught out at the other end 10 minutes before half time when Ryan Sutherland’s ball down the left allowed Ian Mackay to get in behind Josh Millard. The Halkirk attacker then ran across the County defender and coolly slotted past Fraser Wilkie.
Then, just two minutes later, James Macintosh advanced down the right for Halkirk and was allowed to square the ball across goal for Marc Gunn to tap in the second.
Nairn should have halved the deficit on 42 minutes after McWilliams was fouled by Milligan in the box but the United goalkeeper redeemed himself by diving to his left to save MacBean’s penalty kick.
In injury time, Matty Macleod sprinted in from the left but his clipped effort was touched around the far post by the impressive Milligan.
Nine minutes into the second half, Macleod had another chance when he controlled an Eadie cross from the right with his back to goal at the edge of the box. He managed to turn and fire in a shot that flew just past the right-hand upright with Milligan beaten.
A slip by Millard on 61 minutes allowed Marc Gunn to dispossess the Nairn defender and he advanced forward to beat Wilkie at the near post for his second goal of the game.
Nairn rallied though and on 69 minutes, substitute Ciaran Young raced in behind the full back on the right before seeing his shot blocked by Milligan. The rebound fell to MacBean who could only hit the post from a yard before being fouled after retrieving the ball again. Matty Macleod stepped up to take the penalty kick this time and made no mistake from 12 yards.
Ten minutes later, debutant Ciaran Young beat the outrushing Milligan to a through pass from Campbell and clipped it past the advancing goalkeeper before running on to the loose ball and rolling home Nairn’s second goal of the game to reduce the deficit to just one.
The chance to force the game to penalties came on 86 minutes. Cameron Maclean’s short free kick found Macleod unmarked on the right. He delivered a low ball across the face of goal but MacBean lost his footing when attempting to get on the end of it, with the ball striking the grounded forward on the back and trickling goalwards only to be pounced on by Milligan with County appeals that it had crossed the line falling on deaf ears.
Halkirk made sure of their semi-finals place on 88 minutes with Andy Falconer profiting from a slip by substitute goalkeeper, Aidan Stewart to round the stopper and roll the ball into the net.
Nairn kept pushing and on 92 minutes, McWilliams scooped a Young cut back from the right over the crossbar from 12 yards with a first time shot after the substitute had done well to beat two defenders.
United rubbed salt into the Nairn wounds four minutes into injury time with Gordon MacDonald playing in Murray Mackay and he stroked past Stewart from a tight angle.
Nairn County – Wilkie (Stewart 67), Millard (Young 62), Jack W. Maclean, Cameron Maclean, Gordon, Cuthbert, Campbell, M. Macleod, MacBean, McWilliams, Eadie. Subs unused: Fraser.