LES Fridge was quick to praise the collective team effort which earned his side their seventh North of Scotland Cup final appearance under his stewardship, writes Graeme Macleod.
The County reached the final of this tournament 10 years ago and won it for the first time since 1966 and have gone on to reach a total of seven finals in all competitions since then, winning four of them. Now, Fridge has his sights set on cup final number eight having seen off Forres Mechanics at Mosset Park by a single goal.
The match was far from a classic on a rainy evening but the visitors showed the hard work, graft and togetherness required to edge this derby tussle.
After the final whistle, a clearly pleased Fridge said: “I am delighted to be in another final. We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was exactly what we expected.
“I said before the game there would not be a lot in it and said at half time that I thought it would take something special or a mistake to win the game and that is what happened.
“It was very much a team performance. We let ourselves down in the last couple of games but I thought tonight was a very good team performance overall – I thought everybody did their bit tonight.”
Fridge, his backroom team and the players have come in for heavy criticism from a number of angles in recent weeks having shipped seven goals to Brora Rangers last Wednesday after goalkeeper Calum Antell was red carded before failing to break down 10-man Fraserburgh on Saturday.
The manager insists that spirits in the squad were high going into this semi final though despite the criticism, which Fridge says he and his players simply ignored.
He revealed: “There is not a problem with the players or anyone behind the scenes and we have all been in football long enough not to let something like that affect us.
“We had our goalie sent off against Brora and that led to us getting a bit of a hiding with 10 men then on Saturday at Fraserburgh, we did everything apart from score and people have been quick to jump on both of these things but that is football.
“Tonight, it was great to see the attitude of the boys out there to bounce back from those two results and I thought our fitness was really good as well on a difficult night with the pitch being wet.”
John Cameron led the line for County in a slight tweak to the formation which saw Conor Gethins occupy a deeper role. It was a smart move by Fridge with Cameron one of his leading performers on the night and Gethins supplying the only goal of the game, his 150th in County colours.
Fridge added: “John has been excellent. He has had a new lease of life since he signed his new contract at the end of last season and has been great for us so far this season. You know what you are going to get with John – a lot of work and a lot of graft and I think you saw that tonight.”
Paul Macleod was another County player who excelled with the 26-year-old recalled to play in his preferred position of centre half having predominantly played wide in midfield over the last couple of seasons.
Fridge revealed: “Sean Webb was missing because he had to go away down to Manchester with work and Bobo (Martin MacDonald) is still injured, so Paul came in at centre half for us tonight alongside Mo (Michael Morrison) and he did very well.”
Wick Academy stand between Nairn and a seventh trophy win in this competition with the two sides meeting in the final on Saturday October 10th at a venue still to be confirmed.
Fridge added: “It will be the second time we have faced Wick in this final after beating them in extra time three years ago. They are a good side, they work hard and they move the ball quickly. I am sure it will be a great game and a great occasion for everyone to look forward to when it comes around but we have important games between now and then to focus on first.”