LAST season’s top scorer Jordan MacRae departure to Cove Rangers may have left a 23-goal gap in Nairn County’s attack but it was the loss of the striker’s defensive qualities which were highlighted most to manager Ronnie Sharp in this opening day reverse at Formartine United.
The County boss was honest enough to admit his team was outplayed by their rampant hosts, who went ahead on nine minutes through an early header off new signing, Gary Fraser.
Stuart Anderson clipped home number two on 22 minutes before Nairn gave themselves hope by pulling one back two minutes later through Dylan Mackenzie.
But it took just four minutes for Andrew Greig to restore United’s’ two-goal advantage. And then, after the break, an in-swinging Fraser free kick from deep on the left was headed up into the air by Adam Porritt with goalkeeper Dylan Maclean unable to prevent the dropping ball from bouncing up on to the underside of the crossbar and into the net under pressure from Stuart Anderson on an otherwise impressive afternoon for the Nairn stopper.
Sharp revealed: “We were saying in there that defensively, we start from the front. We used to have Jordan MacRae for that and he set the tempo defensively for us chasing everything down but now we do not have him as he is away to Cove.
“We have to find a way of doing that now. It is a big player for us to try to replace and whether we have to change things about to do that, we do not know yet.
“They were far too good for us and it is as simple as that. We started well enough and we were bright for the first 10 minutes but once they scored, they were quite relentless from there.”
County forced a save out of United goalkeeper, Kevin Main in the very first minute through Ewen Urquhart and were unfortunate not to half a two-goal deficit just short of half-time in the best the visitors mustered in front of goal out with Mackenzie’s 22nd-minute strike.
Sharp added: “Ewen’s one was at a height the goalkeeper would have liked. Then, when we were 3-1 down, we had a chance just before half time to get it back to 3-2 but the goalkeeper made a good save off Gregg Main and then blocked Dylan’s follow-up on the line. If we had taken that then we would have given ourselves half-a-chance but overall, we were outplayed. I thought they were very, very good and looked very slick for this time of the season.”
Sharp believes on that display, United will be up there challenging for this season’s Highland League championship and many other teams in the league will be doing well to come away from North Lodge having gone down by just the three goals.
He said: “You are looking at them and Cove as the favourites for the title along with the rest of the top four from last season – Fraserburgh and Inverurie. I was very impressed with Gary Fraser, the new player they have brought in. He looked a very good player. You then have Archie Macphee controlling everything up front and I thought they were excellent.”
“There is no disgrace in us losing here. The surface was perfect to play on and they took full advantage of that.”
Sharp’s side has another tricky engagement next weekend as they go to Deveronvale, who made a flying start to their season with a 7-0 hammering of Lossiemouth and who defeated Nairn at Banff towards the end of last season.
Before that, Elgin City are at Station Park in the first round of the North of Scotland Cup with Sharp set to be forced into several changes to his team.
“We have a lot of boys missing early on,” he revealed. “We had two missing today and another two missing for next week, so we need to settle it down and I am hoping it settles down a few weeks into August. We have holidays and work commitments at the moment, which seems to be a particular problem for us this year but everyone has the same at certain points in the season and we just have to get on with it.”