THE prospect of taking his team to face rampant Brora Rangers this afternoon had been giving Nairn County manager Les Fridge sleepless nights. But the boss used his time burning the midnight oil to devise the perfect game plan to see off the champions this afternoon, writes Graeme Macleod.
Fridge was left in no doubt about the size of the task facing his side when he went along to watch Brora's 10-1 dismantling of Clachnacuddin on Boxing Day. After nights of soul searching over New Year though, he came up with an unusual system that worked perfectly on a memorable day in the club's history.
Midfielder Callum Maclean was slotted into the centre of the defence alongside Sean Webb and Paul Macleod with the impressive Gregg Main taking his place in centre of the park and captain Michael Morrison left on the bench. The standard back-three system was also reinforced by the presence of a single full back on the right side - Andrew Skinner occupying the role.
Sam Urquhart and Alan Pollock put tireless shifts in out wide and Tony Wallace and Robbie Duncanson were tasked with getting forward from central areas in support of lone striker, Conor Gethins.
The manager was quick to hand all of the credit to his players though for the way they applied themselves against their free-scoring hosts.
He said: "I watched Brora against Clach last week and I then had a couple of sleepless nights trying to come up with something for today. They were quite magnificent in that game, so over the last couple of days, I have been racking my brain."
"We knew they had pace and players capable of scoring goals and causing problems all over the park. It was a case of trying to come up with a system and a formation that could counter that and hit them on the break, which was the way we played with Tony Wallace and Robbie Duncanson breaking from the middle of the park, Alan Pollock coming in from the right and Sam Urquhart coming in from the left."
"As I say all of the time to the players though, it does not matter what formation or system you come up with - the players have to go out and work the way they did today and they deserve all of the credit because they have worked their ar$es off, kept the shape that I wanted them to, done the job I wanted them to and have come away from here with all three points. Not many teams will do that this season."
He added: "On Monday, it was highlighted against Keith that we were done by pace. We had a lopsided defence today with Andrew Skinner looking after Andrew Greig and Callum Maclean went in to the three at the back who had to look after Zander Sutherland and Paul Brindle."
Brindle opened the scoring after only seven minutes when he drilled home at the near post after Nairn had failed to clear a corner kick.
Fridge said: "It was a sloppy goal to lose, it really was. We gave away the corner when we probably could have put it out for a throw-in but Callum Maclean was unlucky because he was overstretching. They took a short corner, it came through a couple of bodies, took a few ricochets and Paul Brindle knocked it in."
"It was a bit of a scrappy goal from our point of view - we could have dealt with the short corner a bit better and Paul Brindle had two hits at the ball before it ended up in the net."
County had started the game in a positive manner and despite going behind, they continued to acquit themselves well and limit the clear cut chances the hosts were able to create.
The visitors then pushed on after the break and by the time Tony Wallace's equaliser arrived on 64 minutes, Nairn had already passed up a handful of chances to bring themselves level.
That shocked Brora back into life but they failed to apply any real pressure to Calum Antell's goal and as they increased the number of bodies they threw forward, Nairn experienced increasing success on the counter attack, culminating in Robbie Duncanson's winner three minutes from time.
Fridge said: "We came into the game more and more as it wore on after settling again having gone behind and had chances before Tony scored the equaliser."
"It was end-to-end as the game wore on and had a cup tie feel to it before we went up and won it."
"We had plenty of chances at the end and even for the goal, we had two or three bites at it before Robbie stuck it away."
He added: "After letting ourselves down against Keith on Monday, it is a great way to bounce back. I can come up with systems, I can come up formations but the boys need to apply themselves and do as we ask them. I cannot fault them at all - it was a magnificent effort from everyone and a thoroughly deserved three points. It is a great feeling and it is a great way to start the year."