A game that would not have been won last season was how Nairn County manager Ronnie Sharp surmised his side's bruising clash with Wick Academy at Station Park last night.
The Caithness men arrived looking to stop the hosts by any means be they fair or foul. And it appeared to be working as they established a two-goal lead towards the end of the first half. But it ultimately led to their downfall as the dismissal of defender Michael Steven opened the door for Nairn to kick-on and take the lead before Jack Henry's second yellow card late on for a crunching tackle killed the Scorries' hopes of any points.
In truth, it could have been worse for Wick with Steven Anderson fortunate to escape an early booking for a series of wild lunges which would have meant he too would have walked when he eventually made it into the referee's notebook late on. And Steven should probably have been dismissed earlier than he was having escaped censure for shelling the ball out of the ground after he had failed to keep it in play.
Glenn Main's trip on Ross Allan gave Richard MacAdie the chance to put Wick in front from the penalty spot on 31 minutes before Gordon McNab - Academy's best performer on the night - swept home number two just four minutes later.
It left County staring at only a second defeat of the season but they were two goals behind for only two minutes as Dylan Mackenzie was composed enough to slot past Wick goalkeeper Sean McCarthy having been played through by Ross Naismith.
Steven was flashed a second yellow card shortly after the break for clobbering Jordan MacRae with a forearm and just five minutes later, MacRae pulled the ball across goal from the left for Mackenzie to crash home his second of the night.
Wick were direct and looked to play off lone striker Steven Anderson with substitute Marc Macgregor picking up a lot of second balls but it was Nairn who found their way to goal 10 minutes from the end with Mackenzie running on to MacRae's pass to complete his hat-trick.
"That was the type of game we would have lost last year, so I am delighted to get the three points," Sharp stated. "It was a difficult game and Wick are not a bottom-of-the -table team despite their position. They have still got good players and have been consistently around the top six."
"They came to make it physical and in the first half, we did not get to play but that probably caught up with them in the second half with the red cards."
"When we got it back to 2-2, there was only one team that was going to win, unless we did something stupid and gave it away. I thought we showed a lot of character to come back and getting the goal before half-time was ideal but they had the player sent off at the start of the second half and sometimes it is hard to play against 10 men - you need to brave and spread the field and we did that with the second goal when Jordan cut it back across for Dylan."
MacRae claimed two assists with Mackenzie this time in among the goals with his treble hoisting him to the top of County's scoring chart.
"I thought the front two were excellent together again," Sharp said. "We brought an extra forward on in Gary Kerr, which gave us that bit of physicality through the middle. But they were good striking finishes from Dylan."
"They are both 18 years of age and I am not sure if they have played together before coming here but they have a good partnership going and they are working for each other. The pressure is on them because we have got Gary Kerr and Max Ewan coming off the bench and doing well."
Sharp opted to go with Ryan Macleod in goal to replace the stricken Stephen Foster despite last season's first choice Dylan Maclean being available again after holidays.
He said: "I thought Ryan did well. I do not think he had chances with the two goals and it will do his confidence the world of good to come into the team and be on the winning team. He also played a big part in the winning goal too with his early throw out to set Jordan on his way."
Sharp is satisfied with the way his team has started the season but is still contemplating changes to his starting eleven for the weekend trip to Formartine United.
"We took 17 points from the first half of last season and we are up to 16 points now before the end of August. It takes a bit of pressure off now ahead of Saturday. We might freshen the team up a bit because we looked a bit heavy-legged at times but there is no pressure on us."
"We will go there, work as hard as we can and maybe freshen it up slightly. We looked heavy from the start tonight but we have been playing a lot of games recently. We have got midweek games in the next two weeks too, so maybe we need to start freshening it up a bit."