MAGNIFICENT Nairn County have beaten reigning Highland League champions and title favourites Brora Rangers 2-1 on their own patch with a disciplined and workmanlike showing, writes Graeme Macleod.
Les Fridge implemented a game plan and his players executed it to precision with an unfamiliar backline dealing with Brora’s attacking threat while the tireless full backs and midfielders cut off the ammunition, limiting the number of clear cut chances the previously free-scoring Cattachs were able to create.
Gregg Main and Sam Urquhart returned to the starting line up with captain Michael Morrison and Kenny McKenzie dropped to the bench from Monday’s game against Keith. Robbie Duncanson took over the armband.
After an encouraging start to the game, Nairn fell behind seven minutes in. A corner kick from the right was not dealt with by the County defence and Paul Brindle was able to turn it home high into the net at the near post at the second time of asking.
The Nairn goal led a charmed life 20 minutes later when Scott Graham got in behind the County defence down the right and cut the ball back beyond goalkeeper Calum Antell but a combination of Callum Maclean and Sean Webb blocked both of goalscorer Brindle’s efforts on the line.
On the half hour, Andrew Greig cut inside from the left but his low and hard ball towards the far post was mopped up by Maclean.
Brindle ran at the heart of the Nairn defence on 37 minutes but under pressure from Sean Webb, his poked effort struck Antell’s chest and was diverted behind for a corner. From the following set piece, a Grant Munro header at the back post was cleared off the line by Sam Urquhart.
Brindle was played through by Graham on 41 minutes but going away from goal and under pressure from Paul Macleod, the striker’s low, angled effort was clutched by Antell.
County were nearly level two minutes before the break. Pollock’s through ball put Tony Wallace scampering in on goal but Brora goalkeeper Joe Malin was alert enough to race off his line early and thwart the Nairn man at the edge of the box.
At the other end, Dale Gillespie worked the ball through to Greig at the left edge of the box a minute later but his low shot was palmed around the post by Antell.
County passed up a glorious chance to equalise four minutes after the turnaround. Gethins' deft touch sent Urquhart racing in on Malin but with the goal at his mercy, the Nairn wide man went for power instead of accuracy and blasted the ball across goal and beyond the far post from eight yards out.
Graham poked the ball just past the post on 53 minutes after latching on to Gavin Morrison’s deep free kick into the box from the right.
The visitors had a strong claim for a penalty waved away on 61 minutes. Duncanson and Wallace linked up well down the left but the ball across could not find a finish. When it came back in from the right, Wallace was bundled to the deck from behind as he was about to head home at the far post but referee David Watt refused to acknowledge the Nairn claims.
The equaliser arrived three minutes later though. A Gethins cross from the right dropped perfectly 15 yards out at the far post for Tony Wallace to smash a low half volley across goal and into the corner of the net.
Zander Sutherland cut inside from the right on 72 minutes and flashed a powerful drive past the far post which Antell had covered as Brora pushed to re-establish their lead.
The game developed a cup tie feel and no sooner had Nairn survived a goalmouth scramble, they were breaking forward and would have had two players in on goal had it not been for a dubious offside call.
Duncanson then weaved in on goal on 77 minutes but after beating two men, he delayed his close range shot and was crowded out.
County passed up a gilt-edged chance to take the lead on 82 minutes. Robbie Duncanson’s lofted ball from the left edge of the box to the far post found Pollock but the midfielder took the ball on the volley as it dropped under pressure from the advancing Malin and fired over the crossbar.
But the visitors found themselves in front with just three minutes left. Duncanson’s ball out to the right put Pollock racing in on goal. His effort was blocked with the loose ball spinning across goal to Gethins. His shot was saved superbly by Malin but Robbie Duncanson was on hand to ram home the rebound.
County missed a glorious chance to kill it on 90 minutes. Duncanson had the entire Brora half to run into with the ball and he slipped in Pollock coming in from the right but the wide man blazed over the bar with just Malin to beat.
Brora Rangers – Malin (yellow 90+5), Pickles, Macdonald, Munro (M. Maclean 46), Houston, Gillespie, Graham, Morrison, Sutherland (Brittain 82), Brindle, Greig (Macleod 69). Subs unused: Grant, C. Maclean, Martin (gk).
Nairn County – Antell, Webb, P. Macleod, C. Maclean, Skinner, Gregg Main, Wallace, Pollock, Duncanson (R. Naismith 90+1), Gethins, Urquhart. Subs unused: Morrison (yellow 90+5), Mackenzie, Macrae, J. Maclean, D. Maclean (gk).
Referee – David Watt.
Pictures by Donald Matheson