WALKING wounded Nairn County took a point away at Wick Academy to leave manager Ronnie Sharp delighted with the effort of his young squad.
The visitors travelled with a 17-man pool, no fewer than 10 of whom are still young enough to play in the under-20s squad.
Injuries during the game to Callum Ednie, Dylan Mackenzie and Gary Kerr meant that all three County subs were enforced with Cameron Maclean handed a debut and Matty Macleod give a first run out since August.
Sharp said: "We came up here with two players calling off late last night (Jack Maclean and Ross Naismith), which meant we were missing six players all together, so we are delighted to come up here and get a point. It is a tough place to come and we finished the game with a really low average age of the team. We had 16 and 17-year-olds on the park, so to come away with a point is great for us."
Sharp saw his side fall behind to a Sam Mackay free kick early on but Dylan Mackenzie's leveller midway through the half was eventually enough for County to take a share of the spoils back down the road.
That was only after Wick had enjoyed the majority of the second half with a pair of late saves by Dylan Maclean preserving Nairn's precious point.
Sharp said: "We did really well and our goalkeeper made two excellent saves to keep us in the game, although we gave them the goal in the first half. They put us under real pressure but you know when you come here you are going to be under pressure. It does not matter what team comes here that will happen because Wick are a good side - they are in a false position in the league because there are some really good players here. It is a good point for us."
Mackay's opener saw him whip a free kick over the wall and into the net on Maclean's side but the manager felt he made up for it with his two splendid blocks at the end.
Sharp said: "We thought Dylan got his positioning wrong for the free kick but we were delighted he made the save at the end. It was a good save and the shot was on target which contributed to an excellent point for us."
He added: "I thought we were the better team in the first half. We were catching them over the top with pace but it is hard to keep doing that amount of running for 90 minutes when the pitch is heavy. Dylan Mackenzie and Callum Ednie picked up knocks too, which meant we had to change it about again and we lost Dylan's pace, which was causing them problems. Jordan and Gary did a lot of work too and tired towards the end but the defence held strong."
County's equaliser gave them the confidence to go on and control the remainder of the half with the slightest of touches off the head of Dylan Mackenzie enough to take a Jordan MacRae cross away from Wick goalkeeper Sean McCarthy.
Sharp said: "Dylan got a wee touch to it and it was a good header right into the corner. It was a good cross by Jordan but young Max Ewan made a great run outside to create the space for him. That attracted the defender towards him and Jordan put a great ball in. We got a bit of confidence from that and as I said, we looked the better team in the first half but fair play to Wick because they looked the better team in the second half."
A groin injury to Mackenzie led to the introduction of Cameron Maclean, with the young midfielder gaining a 30-minute run out on his debut.
"He did very well," said Sharp. "He is still only 17, so it is a big ask to come and play here at that age because it is one of the hardest grounds in the league to come to. He has been playing in the under-20s and has only just moved up there from the under-17s in the summer, so to make your debut in the Highland League is a lot to take in but for me, he was excellent when he came on."