A SECOND half rear-guard action from depleted Nairn County saw them spoil Craig Gunn’s Wick Academy homecoming party as the visitors escaped from Harmsworth Park with a point.
It looked for all the world that the script was written for the prolific striker to mark his return to his home town club with the winning goal on 87 minutes and deny County a point but Nairn stopper Dylan Maclean had other ideas, making a fantastic stop having only just excelled himself to come out on top in a one-on-one with Steven Anderson.
The visitors ended the game as the walking wounded with all three substitutes enforced meaning there was a debut for 17-year-old Cameron Maclean and a first appearance since August for his fellow teenager, Matty Macleod.
The home side went in front with just four minutes on the clock. Sam Mackay stepped up to a free kick on the right edge of the penalty area and lashed the ball up and over the wall, across goal and into the net on goalkeeper Dylan Maclean’s side.
There was an early change for Nairn with Callum Ednie coming off due to a tweaked hamstring to be replaced by Max Ewan on 15 minutes. Then, less than a minute later, Jordan MacRae whipped in an in-swinging cross from the right towards the far post that was touched past Sean McCarthy in the Wick goal by the head of Dylan Mackenzie.
Wick almost re-established their lead on 20 minutes when a great switch of play from right back sent Mackay racing in on goal from the left. He poked the ball past the advancing Dylan Maclean but Kenny McKenzie was able to race back and collect the ball as it approached goal.
A superb save from McCarthy prevented Nairn from taking the lead on 23 minutes. Adam Naismith’s free kick from the left found the defender at the far post. His net-bound effort back across the goalkeeper was excellently tipped away by the Wick number one though.
The Scorries should have scored four minutes into the second half as they did in the first. Sam Mackay whipped across an out-swinging cross from deep on the right that the unmarked Jack Henry stooped to meet with a free header at the far post but the young midfielder sent the ball wide.
Craig Gunn came off the bench for Wick and sprung the Nairn offside trap on 73 minutes before squeezing a tight angled effort under Dylan Maclean but Callum Maclean mopped up from the goal line.
Nairn were let off the hook twice in a minute in the closing stages. Gordon McNab went in behind Cohen Ramsay for Wick and his delivery was knocked just past the far post by the sliding Sam Mackay on 84 minutes. Then, barely 60 seconds later, Dylan Maclean made a superb block to thwart Steven Anderson after he went in one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
The Nairn number one excelled himself even further on 87 minutes when Gunn got in behind the County defence and took a touch to compose himself but from just a few yards out, his effort was blocked by the sprawling stopper who ensured his side took a share of the spoils.
Wick Academy – McCarthy, M. Steven, G. Steven, Hardwick (yellow 32), Manson (D. Mackay 74), Halliday (y 86), Henry (y 90+2), McNab, S. Mackay (Hughes 86), Anderson, Macgregor (Gunn 57 (y 90)). Subs unused: Sinclair, Cameron, MacAdie, Trialist (gk).
Nairn County – D. Maclean, MacDonald (yellow 69), Callum Maclean, A. Naismith (yellow 80), Glenn Main, Ednie (Ewan 14), D. Mackenzie (Cameron Maclean 63), K. McKenzie, Kerr (M. Macleod 83), MacRae, Ramsay. Subs unused: Munro, Cuthbert, R. Macleod (gk).
Referee – Will Smith.
Pictures: Donald Matheson