TITLE-challenging Cove Rangers squeezed out 10-man Nairn County at Station Park as a Daryl Nicol goal a minute into the second half proved to be decisive for the visitors, writes Graeme Macleod.
County started well and only a timely-intervention by Eric Watson saw him nick the ball off Conor Gethins' toe after he had played in by a great Robbie Duncanson pass on two minutes.
Six minutes later, a mis-placed pass by Blair Yule off a short throw-in at the halfway line on the right went straight to Gethins but his early effort from 40 yards out with the goalkeeper off his line dropped past the post.
A great Gethins pass sent Urquhart scampering in behind the Cove defence down the right. He could not work the opening to fire in a shot though, so passed to Callum Maclean at the edge of the box, who teed up Duncanson but his drive was beaten behind by Cove goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie. The corner which followed dropped to Alan Pollock, who stung the palms of McKenzie before the visitors cleared.
Then, on 17 minutes, Gethins forced an impressive save from McKenzie as he kept out the Irish striker's low effort with his legs.
County continued to press and Andrew Skinner's 30-yard effort was tipped over the top by McKenzie on 20 minutes.
Cove threatened on 21 minutes when Connor Scully's neat through pass from the right touchline sent Daryl Nicol in but Calum Antell read the situation to advance and narrow the angle before making the save.
That prompted the visitors to come into it and Stuart Walker's rasping drive from 20 yards out was clawed away by the diving Antell as the Welsh stopper threw himself to his right.
Nicol then stepped away from Glenn Main on 31 minutes and saw his low shot from the edge of the box tipped behind by Antell. From the resulting corner, Watson sent a header over the crossbar.
The visitors assumed control of the game with goals either side of half time though. The first came in the fourth minute of first half stoppage time with Sam Burnett's slipping in a pass which put Jamie Watt in on goal and the striker only needed one touch to knock the ball past the advancing Antell.
Then, a minute into the second half, Cove added a second goal. County took centre but played a poor pass out to the right, which led to Nairn conceding a free kick through an aerial challenge. The delivery into the box was not dealt with by the hosts' defence and Daryl Nicol latched on to the bouncing ball to smash beyond Antell.
County came close to pulling one back on 62 minutes. Urquhart showed great pace and skill to advance down the right and take on Stirling Smith before cutting the ball back to Duncanson but the Nairn skipper's first time, clipped effort grazed the crossbar on the way over.
Nairn found the goal they craved three minutes later. A Pollock cross from the left appeared to hit Cove defender Eric Watson on the arm at the near post but as the majority inside Station Park shouted for a penalty, Conor Gethins did not stand on ceremony as he swept the loose ball home from six yards.
Sam Urquhart was denied a goal of the season contender by a magnificent McKenzie save on 70 minutes. The attacker trapped a high ball he had no right to control on the right touchline, before beating a man and appearing to overrun it but winning a 50/50 challenge. He then progressed to the edge of the box where he unleashed a stinging drive which was bound for the top corner until McKenzie kept it out with a superb save.
Cove went up the other end and had a golden chance to seal it after Nicol was hauled down just inside the box by Sean Webb. But the striker rattled Antell's right-hand post with the penalty kick to keep Nairn in it.
The visitors then received a stroke of luck 15 minutes from time when Gregg Main's curling drive from the right edge of the box deflected to wrong foot the diving McKenzie but the ball struck the diving stopper.
Main was dismissed on 81 minutes though having been booked for dissent following Nicol's penalty miss before collecting another yellow card for a sliding challenge in the middle of the park.
County fashioned one last chance to salvage a point on 79 minutes. Another Urquhart delivery after another great piece of skill on the right ran all of the way through to Pollock on the far side but he could only blast over.
Nairn County - Antell, Webb, Pollock, Gethins, Urquhart, Skinner, C. Maclean, Duncanson (R. Naismith 76), Glenn Main, Cameron (Gregg Main 60) (yellow 72, 81), McKenzie. Subs unused: P. Macleod, Morrison, Macrae, J. Maclean, D. Maclean (gk).
Cove Rangers - McKenzie, Redford, Walker (Smith 42), Yule, Watson (yellow 70), Kelly, Burnett (Duff 72), Campbell, Nicol, Watt (Donaldson 76), Scully. Subs unused: McBain, McCaffrey (gk).
Referee - Calum Spence.
Pictures by Donald Matheson