RYAN Stott will take the plaudits for his hat trick at Station Park as Cove Rangers took all three points but it was the guile and skill of Blair Yule and Paul McManus which proved to be the biggest difference between the two sides.
Both teams will feel aggrieved to have finished with 10 men and to have seen penalties given against them late on but it was Cove's superior cutting edge in the final third that was crucial.
The visitors threatened on four minutes with Mitch Megginson rolling the ball back for Paul McManus to step on to just inside the box. The centre forward stroked it goalwards first time but Dylan Maclean dived superbly to his to tip it away.
Nairn settled down and only a brilliant block from Stuart Mackenzie prevented the hosts from opening the scoring on 20 minutes. Gregg Main whipped in a low ball from the left and Gary Kerr collected it with his back to goal before spinning well and blasting in a 15-yard drive that the Cove number one got down well to keep out.
County threatened again eight minutes later when Gregg Main's superb pass sent his brother, Glenn scampering in from the left. He cut inside but his low curling effort was tipped away by Mackenzie.
With the hosts pushing for the opener, Cove turned the screw with two goals in three minutes.
Ryan Stott raced down the left as Cove counter attacked to great effect before rolling the ball across for Daniel Park to slide home on 35 minutes.
County were denied a penalty a minute later when Eric Watson shoved Kerr off the ball in the box and then Cove went up the other end and doubled their advantage.
Great skill from Blair Yule opened up the Nairn defence and he knocked in a perfectly-weighted through pass for Ryan Stott to run on to and blast in his side's second of the afternoon.
Then, a minute before the break, a magnificent reaction save from Maclean kept out Paul McManus's thunderous volley after the veteran striker smashed a cross from the left goalwards.
Cove started the second half on the front foot but it was Nairn who had the first sight of goal when Gregg Main intercepted a slack pass 30 yards from goal and slipped in Kerr from the left but he blasted low across goal and wide of the far post.
But it was the visitors who added a decisive third on 61 minutes. Blair Yule whipped in an in-swinging free kick from the left that was knocked down at the far post for Paul McManus to scramble over the line from close range.
Nairn were reduced to 10 men in dubious circumstances on 64 minutes. A superb switch from McManus sent Park racing in behind Jack Maclean. The Cove attacked just got their before the County youngster and knocked the ball towards the corner flag before running across him and going down after a tangle of legs. That was enough for referee Dan MacFarlane to issue the red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring chance. From the resulting free kick, Megginson smashed the crossbar from almost 40 yards out.
County pulled one back two minutes later. Jordan Macrae showed great skill and composure to race forward and slip the ball into Wayne Mackintosh and he blasted a low drive that flew across Mackenzie and nestled in the far corner.
The numbers were levelled up on 69 minutes. Gregg Main held the ball up in the corner and a rash challenge by Megginson saw him go through the back of the County midfielder to earn his second caution having previously been booked for kicking the ball away.
But Cove restored their three-goal advantage on 74 minutes. A deep, low cross from the left drifted through to Ryan Stott at the far post and he was on hand to stroke home his second of the afternoon.
It was a hat trick for Ryan Stott seven minutes from the end. Harry Milne's shifted the ball from one foot to the other inside the box before running into Gregg Main, who had stood his ground. Referee MacFarlane pointed to the spot though, allowing Stott to step up and drill home from 12 yards.
But Nairn reduced the deficit slightly in the final minute. Gary Kerr was brushed off the ball by Eric Watson and the hosts were awarded a penalty in equally as soft circumstances. Gregg Main stepped up to send Mackenzie the wrong way from 12 yards.
Nairn County - D. Maclean, S. Mackenzie, C. Maclean, P. Macleod (Riddell 46), Glenn Main, Mackintosh, J. Maclean, K. McKenzie, Kerr, Gregg Main, Macrae. Subs unused: D. Mackenzie, Naismith, Morganti, Mackay, Trialist (gk).
Cove Rangers - Mackenzie, Brown (yellow 38), Walker (y 88), Yule, Watson, Kelly (y 59), Park (Milne 73), Burnett (y 13) (Scully 79), Megginson (y 55), McManus, Stott. Subs unused: McDonald, McCulloch, Lawrie, McBain, McCafferty (gk).
Referee - Dan MacFarlane.
Pictures by Donald Matheson.