CONCEDING early goals has been the scourge of Nairn County's season so far and it proved decisive at Highland League champions Cove Rangers as the home side's direct, long-ball approach paid dividends.
The nomadic side opened the scoring just five minutes in. A deep cross from the left was not dealt with by Kenny McKenzie with the ball dropping inside the box for Daniel Park to latch on to and the Cove wide man stabbed the ball under the advancing Dylan Maclean from 10 yards to put Cove in front.
Just three minutes later, Cove doubled their lead through a simply stunning strike. Mitch Megginson ran across the face of the Nairn defence from right to left 25 yards out before unleashing a powerful effort that flew into the top left hand corner.
The visitors called Cove goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie into action on 17 minutes when Ross Naismith nicked a loose pass and found Chris Moir with a cut back from the right but his shot from 18 yards was straight at the imposing stopper.
There was a let-off for Nairn on 31 minutes when Dylan Maclean's kick was seized on by Cove at the halfway line on the right with Park's cross being met by a side-footed volley from Jonny Smith but from just a few yards, he blazed over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Nairn worked an opening for Jason Morganti on the right but his blast was blocked by a defender with McKenzie punching clear as the ball spun up in the air.
After the restart, Connor Scully saw his free kick from 22 yards take a nick off the wall on its way past the left-hand post before the resulting corner dropped to Smith in the box and he swept a low shot across goal and wide.
Cove full back Harry Milne fancied his chances from long range on 64 minutes and his shot from fully 40 yards flew just past the left-hand post.
County pulled a goal back on 78 minutes through a great piece of quick-thinking from Gregg Main. The midfielder stepped up to a free kick 22 yards from goal and fooled everyone by sweeping the ball low and under the wall with his effort going across goal and into the bottom left-hand corner.
Cove nearly re-established their two-goal lead three minutes later when Megginson got in behind Paul Macleod and Kenny McKenzie but he drilled his shot off the right-hand post.
County pushed for a leveller and had a shout for a penalty when Jason Morganti was bundled over in the box by Harry Milne but the referee waved play on and Cove were happy to keep the ball in the corners to run the clock down.
Cove Rangers - McKenzie, Duff, Milne, Yule, Watson, Kelly, Scully (Buchan 76), Campbell, Megginson (yellow 71), Smith (Stott 81), Park (McBain 71). Subs unused: Buchan, McDonald, Walker, Kennedy-Colbert, McCafferty (gk).
Nairn County - D. Maclean, Morganti, C. Maclean (yellow 61), P. Macleod (y 90+2), Glenn Main, Riddell (y 42) (Mackay 55) (y 90), Naismith (Macrae 67), Moir, Kerr (y 37), Gregg Main (y 65), K. McKenzie. Subs unused: D. Mackenzie, MacDonald, R. Macleod (gk).
Referee - Will Smith.
Pictures by Donald Matheson