COMPOSURE in the final third of the park is what makes the difference between Nairn County and the top Highland League teams, according to Station Park boss, Ronnie Sharp.
Nairn fell behind in this Scottish Cup tie to Mitch Megginson's 17th-minute opener before Jamie Masson doubled Cove Rangers' advantage just 32 seconds into the second half.
But County weathered the storm and rallied from there, pulling a goal back through Jordan MacRae's second in as many Scottish Cup ties this season. But despite then looking to push on, the home side were unable to seriously test visiting goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie further and it was Cove who found themselves in the hat for the third round.
Sharp said: "We conceded the first one from a corner and we have been struggling to deal with set pieces lately. Then, right from the start of the second half we conceded off a cross and it is the same thing that used to happen to us last year. It seems to be creeping back into our game again."
"I thought we had enough of the ball in the last third but we were not good enough quality-wise to put them under pressure. That is the difference between the top teams and the rest - their ability in the last third. They just slow themselves down and pick the right pass at the right time but we are not doing that at the moment."
County went down by an incredible eight goals to nil to the same opposition on league duty just four weeks ago and Sharp admitted to feeling it could go the same way again when Cove added their second of the afternoon so early in the second half.
"When you go 2-0 down to Cove, you are expecting the worst," he declared. "It has been a tough couple of weeks for everyone but I thought our performance was good compared to the last time we played them. We were a lot stronger and we looked a lot more solid. It is just scoring goals that we have a problem with at the moment."
"You can take so much encouragement but even near the end, we were able to get in around the box a lot but we did not cause the goalkeeper any problems. It was the same at Brora in our last game - we had enough chances to get something up there but never managed it. We are struggling to score goals at the moment. It usually takes someone to produce a bit of skill for us to score a good goal because we are not managing to find any simple ones. It is a big problem."
Midfielder Liam MacDonald was thrown in for an instant debut having joined the club on loan from Inverness CT earlier in the week.
"I thought he did very well," Sharp said. "He looks very good on the ball and is a tidy player. It will be hard to come into a team straight away, so we will get a couple of training sessions into him this week but I thought he did very well for his first game."
A lack of defenders meant that Sharp had to deploy Kenny McKenzie at centre half and the 25-year-old was named the sponsors Man of the Match.
"Kenny was excellent," Sharp opined. "He can play multiple positions and it does not faze him. But overall, it is disappointing - we got back to 2-1 and were looking to push on and get the equaliser but we are just lacking that bit of composure in the final third. We have the quality but we lack a bit of composure."
"You have to show character. That is the name of the game in football - you can dig in and show a bit of character or you can give up but we did not give up at all. We probably did in the last game against them but not in this one."