A VICTORY for power over precision saw Nairn County fall to defeat against Clachnacuddin with centre forward Daniel MacLennan proving to be too much for the home side to handle.
But it could have been very different had referee Alan Proctor shown Paul Smith a second booking for kicking the ball away early on in the second half with the game still goalless before the Clach full back went on to play a pivotal role in the Lilywhites' opener.
Clach were handed a chance to open the scoring on six minutes when Smith won a soft foul on the edge of the Nairn box but Blair Lawrie's bending free kick was superbly held by Dylan Maclean.
The inside of the left-hand post kept Clach level on 21 minutes with Gregg Main's bending free kick from 25 yards rattling the woodwork with John Campbell beaten. The ball flashed out to Gary Kerr but the centre forward was unable to sort his feet out in time to apply the finish.
A superb save at his near post by Dylan Maclean prevented Iain Penwright on 26 minutes as the nippy striker's snap shot was beaten around the woodwork by the County shot stopper.
The visitors should have been reduced to 10 men on 51 minutes when Paul Smith kicked the ball away following the referee's whistle despite already being on a booking. Immediately knowing his fate, the Clach left back threw himself to the deck when Gregg Main got to within a couple of yards and thus avoided the deserved punishment.
It was a decision that was to haunt County four minutes later. Smith's deep free kick from the right was headed wide for a corner and from Blair Lawrie's delivery on the left, Daniel MacLennan out-muscled his marker to send a header crashing into the roof of the net at the near post.
But County responded immediately with a leveller on 57 minutes. Gregg Main's superb in-swinging free kick from the left evaded everyone bar Jack Maclean at the far post and he headed his team back on terms.
The visitors had a chance to go in front from the penalty spot on 71 minutes after Glenn Main stuck out a leg in the box and MacLennan was only too happy to accept the invitation to go down. But after referee Alan Proctor pointed to the spot, Duncan Jones stepped up to stroke the ball to Dylan Maclean's left and the goalkeeper threw himself across his goal to make a superb stop.
But Clach found a winner four minutes from the end. Daniel MacLennan's strength took him away from the Nairn centre halves and he had the composure to slip in Michael Finnis with the Clach defender rounding Maclean before rolling the ball home.
But County could have snatched a sensational leveller two minutes into injury time. Willie Barron smashed the ball across goal from the right and the outstretched leg of Dylan Mackenzie could only divert the ball over the crossbar from just a yard out at the far post.
Then, two minutes later, a Nairn corner from the right saw the ball forced home amid a goalmouth scramble but referee Proctor awarded the visitors a free kick to the home side's dismay.
The returning Paul Macleod was fielded in an unfamiliar attacking role and he let his frustrations get the better of him as he was dismissed five minutes into added time.
Nairn County - D. Maclean, Mackay (J. Maclean 46), C. Maclean, S. Mackenzie, Glenn Main, Barron, Naismith (D. Mackenzie 72), K. McKenzie (yellow 38), Kerr (P. Macleod 79) (y 88, 90+5), Gregg Main, Macrae. Subs unused: Riddell, Ednie, Barton, R. Macleod (gk).
Clachnacuddin - Campbell (yellow 62), Mackintosh (y 90+1), Finnis (y 90+1), Shewan, McGurk, Robertson (y 30) (Beetson 83), Lawrie (y 27), McKillop, Penwright (Jones 61), Smith (y 40) (R. MacDonald 69), MacLennan. Subs unused: Maclean, Macleod, Trialist, A. MacDonald (gk).
Referee - Alan Proctor.
Pictures by Donald Matheson.