A RELIEVED Les Fridge praised the character shown by his side as they fought back from 3-2 down with eight minutes remaining to defeat Clachnacuddin 4-3 at Station Park, writes Graeme Macleod.
Goals from Conor Gethins and Alan Pollock had Nairn 2-0 up and cruising but Clach replied to level the game before half time before going 3-2 up with a penalty shortly before the hour mark.
Two late penalties won it for Nairn though – the second coming in the final minute – with Gethins converting from 12 yards on both occasions.
Fridge said: “We started the game really well and were comfortable. We had them pegged in to their own half for the first 25 minutes but we needed to get the first goal and it arrived through a good finish from Conor (Gethins) after a great strike from Easter (Gregg Main) hit the bar.
“We then went 2-0 up but the goal to make it 2-1, which Mo (Michael Morrison) could do nothing about, gave them a lift.
“We talked about their second goal at half time because it came from a wee bit of a lapse in concentration and lack of communication as two players went with the same man, which left a big hole for the boy to come through the middle.
“I was disappointed for us to have played so well in the first half but be level at half time. We knew we had to come out in the second half and go again and I thought we had the bulk of the play but we knew they would be dangerous and would compete.
“Their boy played a wee one-two at the edge of the box, stepped inside and John Cameron caught him for the penalty. All of a sudden, we went from finding ourselves 2-0 up and comfortable to being 3-2 down.
“We changed things about after that, although Sam Urquhart was going to go on anyway before the penalty. Sam went on and we brought Kenny McKenzie on quite quickly after that and went to a 3-4-3 formation and piled on the pressure.
“It was a stonewall penalty if ever I have seen one to get us level but I did not have a great view of the handball for the second penalty, so fair play to the referee for awarding it although the boys said after the game that their player blatantly handled it. You have seen them not given though.
“We showed great character and we did a similar job on Clach here a few years ago but we should not have got ourselves into that position. Yes, we will take the pat on the back for winning the game but we need to take the criticism and it is something we will look at during the week at training. It is nice to get back to a normal week of training before the Scottish Cup next weekend.”
Fridge declared himself happy with his team’s week’s work and believes they are in a good position going into next weekend’s Scottish Cup first round match against Selkirk.
He said: “You also have to take into account Wednesday night’s game, which was a hard game in hard conditions against a very strong and physical side.
“We have had three hard games in seven days and to come out of that in a final and winning today, we have to be happy. You are never ‘happy’ happy because there was a defeat in there but I thought today was good and it sets us up nicely for next week.
“Give credit to Clach – I know they have not got off to a very good start this season but they were always going to come here and compete and perform and that is what they did. They were always dangerous on the break and if you look at the first half, they have scored two goals from their only two attempts on goal and that was a wee bit disappointing.”
The introduction of Kenny McKenzie from the bench helped turn the game around late on with the winger winning the penalty kick which led to the equaliser and swinging in the free kick which was handled in the box resulting in the penalty for the winner.
Fridge added: “Kenny gives us a more natural balance on the left hand side, although I thought Alan Pollock did well today. He goes at people and commits the full back but Kenny gives you more natural balance and won the penalty kick and sent in the free kick, which lead to the handball for the second penalty.”
Gethins’ hat trick took him on to 153 career goals for Nairn and 11 for the season and with his contract due to expire in the summer, Fridge stated that he plans to sit down and discuss terms with his number nine again soon.
He revealed: “There has been talk about us not speaking to him but we have spoken to him and had a couple of conversations with him. That matter is in hand and we will speak to him again.
“Goals win you games and make the difference in games and that is him on 153 goals in 159 games. That speaks for itself.”