HARD-WORKING Nairn County could not quite stop the Cove Rangers juggernaut from rolling into the third round of the Scottish Cup but the high-flying Aberdeen club were pushed all the way by a home side who restored some pride just a few weeks after losing by eight goals to the same outfit.
And County should have had a penalty kick just two minutes in. Great link up play saw Gary Kerr find Jordan MacRae, who then slipped Dylan Mackenzie in behind the Cove defence. He was shoved over from behind by the struggling Alan Redford just inside the box but referee Duncan Smith allowed play to continue.
Cove threatened on seven minutes with goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie putting Harry Milne in down the left but his low delivery was touched wide of the near post by Jamie Masson.
The visitors were gifted an opener 18 minutes in. After two previous corners had been knocked behind by Nairn, the third one proved fruitful but County will be ruing the nature in which they conceded. Jamie Masson lifted in an in-swinging delivery from the left that seemed a simple catch for goalkeeper Stephen Foster but he allowed the ball to slip through his hands and Mitch Megginson was quickest to react as he cushioned home a side-footed volley from six yards.
County called McKenzie into action on 22 minutes with a dipping shot from 40 yards out wide on the left that hung in the wind and looked to be sneaking in at the far post until it was touched over by the Cove number one.
Megginson squared a low ball across from the left for Harry Milne on 26 minutes but his close range snap shot from a tight angle was deflected behind by Jack Maclean.
Just 32 seconds into the second half, Cove doubled their lead. Megginson was the provider this time with a cross in from the left that was met by the towering Jamie Masson, who looped a header back across goal and saw the ball drop inside the post with Foster rooted.
Megginson almost setup another Cove goal on 55 minutes but his low delivery from the by-line on the right was spooned past the near post by Daniel Park.
Foster then kept out Connor Scully's powerful volley from 15 yards after the Cove midfielder had ran on to a ball in from the left that Park had dummied.
County were inches away from halving the deficit on 65 minutes. Gary Kerr rolled the ball back to debutant Liam MacDonald on the right edge of the box but he dragged his first time shot across goal and just beyond the far post with McKenzie beaten.
The home side found a way back into the tie on 73 minutes though. MacDonald picked out Kerr as Nairn broke and he set Jordan MacRae away. The forward ran at Alan Redford before cutting inside the Cove full back and blasting the ball past McKenzie at his near post.
Two minutes later, a Porritt free kick into the box from deep was knocked down to Glenn Main but his blast was parried up into the air by McKenzie with the visitors able to scramble the ball away with Nairn looking to push to force a replay but Cove were able to see it out.
Nairn County - Foster, J. Maclean, Ramsay, K. McKenzie, Glenn Main, Porritt (yellow 87), Urquhart (Ednie 81), L. MacDonald, Kerr, MacRae, D. Mackenzie. Subs unused: Ewan, M. Macleod, Munro, D. Maclean (gk).
Cove Rangers - McKenzie, Redford, Milne (yellow 41), Strachan, Watson, Kelly, Park (Burnett 81), Campbell, Megginson, Scully (Stott 81), Masson (McManus 71). Subs unused: Robertson, Ross, Smith, McCafferty (gk).
Referee - Duncan Smith.
Pictures by Donald Matheson.