THERE was praise for the Nairn County players’ commitment to training – and subsequently their levels of fitness – from manager Ronnie Sharp after he watched his side progress to the first round proper of the Highland League (Morganti) Cup with a 4-0 preliminary round win at Wick Academy.
County endured a frustrating five-week spell in cold storage following their league visit to Harmsworth Park on December 23rd but showed little signs of rustiness as they eased to victory over the Scorries.
Quick-fire goals from Jordan MacRae and Dylan Mackenzie a little over five minutes apart had County in control before the midway point of the first half and then Andrew Hardwick’s own goal on the stroke of half time left the host with a second half mountain to climb.
They were barely able to emerge from basecamp though and MacRae rounded off the victory with his second of the game 12 minutes from time.
Sharp said: “Considering we have not played a game in five weeks, I thought our fitness was excellent. That is down to the players and their commitment to come to every training session when we are not playing, which is hard to do when there are no games to look forward. They have been training hard and training well even though we have had to do a lot more running than football because of the weather conditions and that is all down to them – they did not flag at all.
“We were a bit rusty for the first 15 minutes but once we settled down, we looked dominant. The goal before half time was crucial and gave us a real lift. At 2-0, they would have fancied their chances but we were 3-0 up at half time, so just defended well throughout the second half and looked to hit on the counter attack, which helped us to score another one and we knew the game was over then.”
County turned a 1-1 draw into a 4-0 win at the same venue in the space of five short weeks and Sharp put that down to a number of experienced players being available again.
“We have a stronger squad now and we were struggling for a squad the last time we came up here,” he explained. “We had 10 of our 17 players still young enough for under-20s football when we came up here in December but we have boys back now and that made a difference.
“We have let a couple of players go but we have boys back who have been a big miss. Callum Maclean is fully fit again, we have Ewen Urquhart available, Zola (Inaki Fernandino-Soto) is back and we have added Danny Highet to it as well. Hopefully we can kick on.”
Sharp added: “Once we got the first goal, we were pretty dominant. We took our chances well and I thought we defended really well. We did not give them much space to move the ball around and our goalkeeper did not have too many saves to make. They maybe had one or two half-chances early on but that was about it.
“We have a lot of pace in the team and in those sort of conditions, that is really handy to have to get in behind them. We were pretty lethal in the final third and never gave away much – we always looked like the team that was going to score. It is a hard, hard place to come, so we are delighted to win so well.”
MacRae’s displayed his poacher’s instincts to be in the right place to tuck away his two goals.
Sharp said: “He has scored some spectacular goals this season, so it was good to see him in the box in the right position to put them away and Dylan’s was an excellent finish. He showed great pace to get away from the full back and has then slotted it in. I think Adam Porritt is trying to claim the other one but I am pretty sure it was an own goal – as was everyone else in the ground.”
Midfielder Danny Highet was signed just in time to feature and made his debut as a late substitute.
Sharp said: “Danny has come in this week and it was good for him to get on the park for five minutes. He will take a bit of time to settle in but once he does, I am sure he will do well.”