FORMER Nairn County hero Iain Brooks may have notched a hat-trick for Grantown in this friendly match against the under-20s but it was not enough to defeat Stuart Finnie’s side as they battled back from 4-2 down to come away with a draw.
The 39-year-old forward earned legendary status across a lengthy spell at Station Park, which saw him nominated for the club’s Team of the Century in 2014. And Finnie was full of praise for his former team-mate’s continued enthusiasm for the game.
He said: “Brooksie was Grantown’s best player by a mile and his hunger and the way he conducts himself is a lesson to all our players. He was the first Grantown player to show up for the game and he was telling me afterwards he is playing again on Saturday and then Sunday despite hobbling away with heavy legs.
“He uses every part of his body to shield the ball and bring others into play and even in the last 10 minutes when everyone on the pitch was tiring, he was sprinting back to left back to help out defensively then out to the right wing when his team won the ball back such was his desire. Every one of our players should take a look at that and take a leaf out of Brooksie’s book.”
Ciaran Young struck an early double to put the Nairn youngsters 2-0 up before Brooks bagged a goal either side of half-time to level.
Brooks notched again to put Grantown in front and Finnie’s men looked dead and buried when the hosts increased their lead with less than 15 minutes left. But Ryan MacBean and Seamus McConaghy popped up with late strikes to ensure County went home with a draw.
Finnie added: “It was another learning curve and Mark (Greig, coach) and I know there are areas still to be worked on. We need to be braver and have the desire and mentality to do the right things on the ball and when defending set pieces. Team will try to rough us up, so we need to stand up to it. Again, we know we can play better but the pleasing thing was the quality of the goals and the never-say-die attitude at 4-2 down in the last 15 minutes.
“All in all, it was a worthwhile exercise for us to learn about the players and for them to play against a more experienced and streetwise team and we got more minutes into all the squad too.”
Alex Geddes had a free header when he met McConaghy’s corner from the left two minutes in but he glanced his effort across goal and wide.
Forres Mechanics player Liam Taylor – who had started for the Can Cans the night before in the North of Scotland Cup against Nairn – went close to firing Grantown in front but he blasted straight at Fraser Wilkie on nine minutes before Euan Wheeler headed another McConaghy corner wide a minute later.
Ian Payne then failed to control his volley at the far post on 11 minutes when he was free to meet Craig McDermott’s cross from deep on the left as he sent the ball sailing past the post before Nairn opened the scoring seven minutes later. McConaghy was tripped in the penalty area and Ciaran Young stepped up to convert from the spot.
Young almost doubled his tally on 20 minutes after being picked out by Scott Cruden’s out-swinging cross from the right but his far post header was well tipped over the crossbar by the goalkeeper before McDermott fired a first time shot over the crossbar from just outside the box two minutes later.
At the other end, Brooks picked out the unmarked Taylor with a knockdown but again his effort was gathered by Wilkie.
Some neat, one-touch football got Nairn up the park on 28 minutes and although Grantown won the ball back in their own half, McConaghy immediately intercepted the next pass and threaded the ball through for Ciaran Young. His first touch took him across the last defender and in on goal with the centre forward then applying the finish to double County’s advantage.
Taylor struck the face of the crossbar with a looping header for Grantown on 35 minutes before Iain Brooks flicked home a low corner kick from the left four minutes before half-time to half the deficit.
McConaghy then fired a Geddes flick-on wide of the target on the volley with time to take the ball down a minute before the break and two minutes after the turnaround, half-time sub Sam Campbell cracked the underside of the bar with a rising effort from 18 yards.
Ryan MacBean then turned Lewis Mitchell’s low delivery from the left past the near post under pressure from a covering defender on 48 minutes as Nairn started the half well. But it was Grantown who struck next to level it on 54 minutes as Iain Brooks rose highest at the far post to power a header back across goal and beyond Wilkie.
Mitchell fired just over the crossbar for Nairn on 65 minutes before Iain Brooks completed his hat-trick three minutes later the complete the turnaround. He cut inside on the left before despatching a bending, right-footed effort across substitute goalkeeper Aidan Stewart and in at the far post.
The hosts increased their advantage on 76 minutes with a chip over the head of Stewart to make it 4-2.
But Nairn rallied and pulled a goal back just a minute later. Campbell’s clipped free kick forward from 45 yards out was headed on by Craig Munro at the edge of the box for Ryan MacBean to stroke home.
Then, Seamus McConaghy timed his run perfectly to latch on to Campbell’s superb through pass on 82 minutes to race in on goal and knock home the equaliser.
Indeed, McConaghy nearly won it for Nairn three minutes later but his attempted lob over the stranded goalkeeper was scrambled away by the back-pedalling stopper.
Nairn County – Wilkie (Stewart 60), Cruden (Cuthbert 46), Jack W. Maclean (Cameron Maclean 22) (McDermott 89), Munro, Wheeler (Robertson 46), Davidson (Campbell 46), McWilliams (Payne 6) (McWilliams 60), McDermott (Barron 60), Young (MacBean 46), Geddes (Mitchell 46), McConaghy. Subs unused: -