A VALIANT second half showing from Nairn County was not enough to keep the club in the William Hill Scottish Cup as Preston Athletic's direct and robust approach to the first half saw them progress into the hat for round two.
The visitors made the ideal start as they broke the deadlock two minutes in. Gavin Stevenson raced down the right and on to a long ball over the top of Kenny McKenzie and his low cross was not dealt with, allowing Kenneth Park to step on and sweep the opener into the bottom left hand corner from 10 yards.
County were awarded an indirect free kick for a pass back just a few yards out. Glenn Main touched the ball to the side for Wayne Mackintosh to smash goalwards but with all of their players on the line, Preston dealt with the threat.
Things went from bad to worse for the home side on 11 minutes though. Liam Todd whipped in a deep out-swinging cross from 30 yards out on the right and Daniel O'Rourke towered over Stephen Mackenzie at the far post and headed the visitors into a two-goal lead.
Kerr chested down Kenny McKenzie's ball forward and swiveled before volleying just wide from 12 yards a minute later before the striker received a cut back from Jack Maclean and took a touch before stinging the palms of Preston goalkeeper Craig Pennycuick from the edge of the box.
Ross Naismith was introduced as a first half sub for Stephen Mackenzie and just a minute after taking to the field, the midfielder sent a 25-yard free kick just over the bar. Then, on 28 minutes, Mackintosh stooped to meet a Jamie Mackay cross from the right with a header that flashed over the top.
County looked to be coming into the game but the visitors struck a killer third on 34 minutes. Scott Barclay was played in behind Paul Macleod as Preston countered and he showed a cool head to lift the ball over the advancing Dylan Maclean.
Nairn gave themselves hope though eight minutes into the second half. Jamie Mackay fed the ball wide to the charging Jack Maclean on the right and his cut back found Ross Naismith who curled an out-swinging which looped over the head of the goalkeeper and into the net at the far post.
The hosts reduced the deficit to just one on 68 minutes. Gary Kerr lifted his head in the box and guided the ball to the far post for the unmarked Ross Naismith to take a touch and tap County's second goal beyond Pennycuick.
Naismith was at the heart of things again for Nairn on 71 minutes when he fed Jack Maclean in on the right but the youngster's low drive hit the side netting.
Then, two minutes later, Kenny McKenzie's in-swinging cross from the left was just too far in front of the stretching Jamie Mackay at the far post.
Dylan Mackenzie came on with 12 minutes to go and almost made an instant impact as his low drive from 20 yards was tipped on to the post and behind for a corner by Pennycuick as the visitors held on to progress.
Nairn County - D. Maclean, S. Mackenzie (Naismith 26) (yellow 57), K. McKenzie, P. Macleod (yellow 44), Glenn Main (y 81), Mackintosh, Riddell, C. Maclean, Kerr, Mackay (D. Mackenzie 78), J. Maclean (y 86). Subs: Moir, Macrae, Morganti, Gregg Main, R. Macleod (gk).
Preston Athletic - Pennycuick, Law, Cochrane, Cowan, Colquhoun, Todd (McLeod 76), Stevenson (yellow 32), Barclay (y 59), Henderson (Shave 65), Park, O'Rourke (y 44) (Lawson 83). Subs: Lawson, Jardine, Erskine, Siegel, Baines.
Referee - Steven Traynor.
Pictures by Donald Matheson