NOTHING to lose and everything to gain was the mantra from Nairn County manager Les Fridge to his fringe players as they lined up against Turriff United in today's Highland League (Morganti) Cup semi-final. And to man, every player wearing yellow responded with a magnificent performance as under-strength County earned their second final appearance of the season, writes Graeme Macleod.
Paul Macleod, Michael Morrison, Martin MacDonald, Wayne Mackintosh, Gregg Main, Adam Naismith and Tony Wallace all missed out through varying reasons with Andrew Hardwick still on loan at Fort William.
That meant a first appearance of the year for Kenny McKenzie in an unfamiliar left back role while John Cameron came in for his first start since returning from a loan spell at Fort William, also out of position as he played on the left wing. Alan Pollock was another who occupying an unfamiliar slot in the team as he started the game in a deep lying midfield role with Jordan Macrae, Craig Munro and Jack Maclean rewarded for their performances in the under-20s with places on the bench.
At full time, Fridge said: "We had to shuffle things about because we had nearly a full team missing, which was added to late on when Adam Naismith called off at 9 am this morning because he could not get time off work."
"I said to the boys who came in that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. A win takes us into the final and I have asked two or three boys to do unfamiliar jobs and play out of position but I told them to do what I asked of them and give me everything they had. I cannot fault them because they were absolutely outstanding - the attitude and work rate was spot on and to a man, everyone carried out their job."
He added: "I thought we thoroughly deserved it over the piece and I do not think anybody at the game can say otherwise. We had a lot of the play and dominated a lot of the second half - on another day, we would have won the game by three or four goals because we got ourselves into a lot of good positions but just that final ball let us down."
"Kevin Main, the Turriff goalkeeper, produced a couple of really good saves, like he did in the league game here a few weeks ago. He saved from Alan Pollock in the second half when he was clean through and the header from Sean Webb at the end of the first half."
Fridge was satisfied to have turned the tables on Turriff having seen his side defeated twice by United in the league clashes between the two clubs this season.
He said: "We lost the two league games against Turriff by the odd goal and I thought we did not deserve to lose either of them, especially the one here. I thought we deserved to take something from both of these games, so it is nice to get the result our play warranted, especially in such a big game."
The goals came from two of County's stand out players with Conor Gethins getting under the hosts skin as the first half wore on before revelling in opening the scoring in the first minute of the second half after cashing in when Turriff goalkeeper Main dropped a high ball under pressure from Cameron. Meanwhile, Sam Urquhart ran his heart out on the right of midfield and added a tremendous second goal to cap a superb individual performance, one of many in County jerseys.
Fridge said: "We turned it around - they scored in 38 seconds at the start of the second half in the league game whereas we scored in 30 seconds at the start of the second half in this one!"
"I did not think there was anything wrong with it (the first goal) - I am not sure if Kevin Main took his eye off the cross but John certainly did not foul him and Gezza (Gethins) was there to stick it in."
"I thought the second goal was scored after some great football. There was a good bit of play and then the ball came in to Alan Pollock, he flicked it over the top for Sam Urquhart and it was a tremendous finish from him because he had to be cool under pressure."
County now look forward to the final against Brora Rangers on Saturday April 9th at Grant Street Park, Inverness.
Fridge commented: "It is a great achievement to get to a cup final. This is our second this season and we let ourselves down in the North of Scotland one but we have a chance now to hopefully put that right. It will be a difficult, difficult game and we will be the underdogs. But we will look forward to it and it will be a great day out for the supporters and everyone connected to the club."