NAIRN County’s season ended with this North of Scotland Cup quarter final defeat to Brora Rangers but it was a positive showing from Ronnie Sharp’s men to round of what has been an encouraging campaign.
The home side were denied a penalty just four minutes in with Dylan Mackenzie hauled down in the box by Jamie Duff. But referee Liam Duncan would have had to red card the Brora defender, which possibly influenced his decision to allow play to continue.
That could have made all the difference but as it was, County were already trailing at the time and two Brora goal early on in the second half saw the Cattachs ease into the last four of the competition, with Jordan Macrae blasting Nairn’s consolation.
Brora opened the scoring in just the second minutes. Kyle Macleod fed Andrew Greig racing in from the left, with the attacker advancing in behind Stephen Mackenzie before opening his body and stroking a right-footed effort across Ryan Macleod and into the far corner.
County should have been awarded a penalty just two minutes later with Dylan Mackenzie capitalising on a defensive mistake to run in on goal before being bundled over by Jamie Duff but referee Liam Duncan signalled for play to continue. It would have meant a chance to equalise from the spot for the hosts and a certain red card for the Brora captain.
The woodwork kept the deficit at one on 18 minutes. A quick throw-in on the left saw the ball fed to Ally Macdonald and his through ball send Kyle Macleod racing in on goal but the on-loan Ross County attacker smacked the face of the bar with his shot.
County responded on 22 minutes with the ball dropping to Dylan Mackenzie in the box and with his back to goal, the striker spun and got a shot away but his effort was 10 yards out was deflected just off target.
Gary Kerr did well to wriggle away from two defenders as he cut in from the by-line from the left before delivering a low ball towards Wayne Mackintosh but the ball was nicked off the Nairn captain’s toes by Ally Macdonald at the expense of a corner.
At the other end, Kyle Macleod struck for goal after receiving a Scott Graham pass but his effort from eight yards was blocked by the legs of Ryan Macleod, who had stood up well.
County threatened again when a great first touch from Mackintosh saw him control the ball in his stride as he trapped a high ball and came in from the left before attempting to pick out Dylan Mackenzie with a cut back but Steven Mackay nicked the ball off the Nairn youngster’s toes. Then, from the resulting corner, Callum Maclean’s far post header was cleared off the goal line by Greig with the Brora eventually managing to smuggle the ball behind for a corner.
Ryan Macleod was called into action again at the other end with Steven Mackay heading a free kick from the right goalwards but Nairn’s young stopper did well to clutch the ball.
Nairn were a whisker away from levelling on 37 minutes with the ball dropping to Mackintosh inside the D with the midfielder clipping a shot towards the bottom left corner. Brora goalkeeper Joe Malin was rooted to the spot but the ball came back off the inside of the post and rolled along the line before being cleared.
But the visitors doubled their tally just three minutes after the restart. Kyle Macleod was the architect as he was able to barge his way past two defenders at the edge of the box before slipping the ball through for Andrew Greig to run on to from the left with the wide man coolly lifting his effort over Ryan Macleod.
Brora threatened to turn the screw on 51 minutes with great skill from Greig wide on the left allowing him the space to feed the advancing Mackay charging into the box but his low effort was deflected past the near post.
The third goal arrived on the hour-mark though with a great reverse pass from Scott Graham picking out the perfectly-timed run of Zander Sutherland and the Brora wide man raced into the box to round Macleod and roll the ball home.
Nairn almost pulled a goal back two minutes later but Gary Kerr could only smash his angled drive straight at Malin, who did well to hold.
Then, on 67 minutes, Nairn should have pulled a goal back after a great counter attack by the hosts with Jordan Macrae slipping Mackintosh through on goal. The midfielder sprinted forward from the centre circle but under pressure from a backtracking defender, his shot was blocked by the advancing Malin.
County got the goal their play more than deserved 15 minutes from the end though. Duff was booked for a foul on Kerr just outside the Brora box as the County centre forward burst on to a Mackintosh through pass. Jordan Macrae stepped up to the free kick on the left edge of the box and smashed a low effort across Malin and into the far corner.
Duff should probably have received another yellow card for tugging back Kerr as he raced in behind the Brora defender but referee Liam Duncan again refused to punish the Cattachs centre half.
Nairn County – R. Macleod, S. Mackenzie, C. Maclean, Morganti, Glenn Main, Mackintosh (yellow 35), J. Maclean (P. Macleod 53) (yellow 76), K. McKenzie, Kerr, D. Mackenzie (Riddell 61) (y 85), MacRae. Subs unused: Naismith, Ednie, D. Maclean (gk).
Brora Rangers – Malin, Pickles (J. Ross 64), Macdonald (Gillespie 69), Williamson, Duff (yellow 74), Morrison, Graham, Macleod, Sutherland, Mackay, Greig (S. Ross 64). Subs unused: Lisle, Munro (gk).
Referee – Liam Duncan.
Pictures: Donald Matheson