MAGNIFICENT first half finishes from Conor Gethins and Alan Pollock saw Nairn County earn a place in the quarter final draw for the Highland League (Morganti) Cup at Station Park, writes Graeme Macleod.
Gethins broke the deadlock for Nairn but the visitors levelled just a minute later. Pollock struck before half time though and that was enough to see County through.
There were half chances at either end in the opening quarter of an hour and then Conor Gethins drew a diving save out of Keith goalkeeper Daniel Bell with a curling free kick from the right edge of the box on 16 minutes.
Two goals in a minute saw the game burst into life after 25 minutes.
An exquisite Conor Gethins effort gave Nairn the lead. The striker controlled the ball with his back to goal 20 yards out to the right of goal and turned before lifting his effort over the head of Bell.
But Keith went up the other end and won a corner which they levelled from just a minute later. The delivery from the right was not dealt with and Luke Barbour scrambled it in at the near post despite the efforts of Andrew Skinner to clear off the line.
This gave the Maroons a lift with Bruce Raffell twisting and turning in the box before lifting the ball wide of the post before Kris Duncan raced in on goal but was superbly thwarted by Calum Antell, who made himself big to make the block.
A neat flick by Adam Naismith sparked another County attack on 32 minutes but Alan Pollock's drive was deflected past the post for a corner.
Just two minutes later, Nairn were back in front. Alan Pollock cut in from the right on to his left foot and despite being fouled, referee Ben Dempster played a great advantage, which allowed the County midfielder to whip a stunning effort beyond the despairing dive of Bell from 22 yards out.
The visitors looked to respond before the break and Raffell dragged a low effort comfortably past the near post after a Keith corner from the left had only been partially cleared.
Gethins tried his luck with another free kick on 49 minutes but his effort from right on the 18-yard line deflected off the end of the wall and behind for a corner.
A minute later, a great cross from the right by Sam Urquhart was only tipped away by Bell and fell to the falling Sean Webb at the back post but he could only scoop his shot over the crossbar.
Antell then had to be alert to race from his line to make another fine block to keep out Donald Fraser's shot. The rebound fell to the Keith midfielder but Antell was up on his feet quickly enough to narrow the angle and force Fraser to fire over the top.
The woodwork denied Pollock a second memorable goal on 56 minutes. The midfielder unleashed a powerful effort from 22 yards that crashed off the crossbar. The loose ball dropped to the feet of the unmarked Robbie Duncanson but with time on his side, the Nairn captain sclaffed his first time shot with the goal at his mercy.
The visitors should have been level on 59 minutes. Fraser rolled the ball into the stride of Barbour, who stepped on to it and side footed his first time shot straight at Antell when he had the whole goal to aim it, with the Nairn 'keeper making the block with his foot.
The half then settled down with both sides rarely threatening until a deep Adam Naismith cross from the right was blazed over the crossbar by Urquhart at the far post on 72 minutes.
Keith had a great chance to level a minute later but Craig Cormack's shot at the back post off a Ryan Spink cross from the left lacked conviction as he lifted his side-footed effort over the crossbar when he should have at least tested Antell.
Barbour's through pass on 77 minutes split the Nairn defence but Fraser's low, angled drive failed to find the far corner of the net as it bobbled across goal and went comfortably beyond the far post.
Duncanson was denied a penalty nine minutes from the end when he sidestepped the outstretched leg of Bruce Milne and was sent sprawling to the deck but the referee signalled for play to continue despite the Keith defender not making contact with the ball.
Pollock then sent Urquhart haring in on goal from the left but the Nairn wide man could only find the side netting with his effort on 83 minutes.
Nairn County - Antell, Webb, P. Macleod (yellow 19), Pollock, Gethins, Gregg Main (y 57), Urquhart, Skinner, A. Naismith, C. Maclean, Duncanson (Glenn Main 85). Subs unused: Morrison, R. Naismith, Halsman, Macrae, Glenn Main, McKenzie, D. Maclean (gk).
Keith - Bell, Hutcheon, Spink (Clark 87), Milne, Ralton (Yellow 49), Raffell (y 43) (Pugh 60), Duncan (Cormack 60), Fraser, Barbour, Ewan, Ritchie. Subs unused: Clark, Stewart, Massie, Smith, Dey (gk).
Referee - Ben Dempster.
Pictures by Donald Matheson