A THRILLING finale to this William Hill Scottish Cup second round tie saw the match end two goals apiece at Station Park as Nairn County twice battled back from a goal down to earn a replay, writes Graeme Macleod.
A calf injury ruled out captain Michael Morrison with his place in the team taken by Gregg Main. It meant Tony Wallace, Andrew Skinner and Sam Maclean returned to the bench with Bradley Halsman unavailable and Dylan Maclean injured.
The visitors made the better start with no fewer than attempts off target in the first 20 minutes before calling Calum Antell into action. The stopper had to race from his line to thwart David Allan after the striker had been played in from the left by a Gary Weir flick.
The woodwork kept Nairn level on 23 minutes. Gary Weir was unmarked to meet Danny Mackay’s cross from the left with a six-yard header but the ball crashed off the crossbar on its way over the top.
A fantastic save by Antell then prevented Weir on 27 minutes. The striker crashed a thunderous 22-yard effort towards the top left hand corner of the net but the Nairn number one flew through the air to make a first class stop.
Weir finally got the better of the Welsh goalkeeper a minute later. Richard MacAdie was afforded the freedom of Station Park to advance down the right. He had the time to lift his head and pick out Gary Weir at the far post and the striker took a touch before blasting high beyond Antell from six yards out.
Nairn were almost back on level terms on 31 minutes. Gregg Main’s pinpoint in-swinging free kick from deep on the left was flicked towards goal by the head of Sean Webb but Wick goalkeeper Sean McCarthy made a save he knew little or nothing about.
Steven Anderson was next to sting the palms of Antell as Wick broke forward with a sweeping move but under pressure from Sean Webb, the left-sided midfielder saw his angled shot blocked by the ‘keeper.
But County found a leveller out of nothing a minute before half time. Robbie Duncanson’s ball across the box from the left found its way to Wayne Mackintosh on the right edge of the area. He stepped inside Sam Mackay before rifling a low 20-yard effort across goal and into the bottom left corner of the net.
Alan Pollock raced down the left and met a Duncanson pass from the centre circle on 57 minutes before cutting inside and seeing his shot take a deflection, which allowed McCarthy to make the save.
The crossbar thwarted Weir for the second time on 63 minutes. MacAdie sent in a low cross from the right and the in-running striker’s out-stretched leg met the ball but he could only divert the ball off the woodwork and over the top.
The impressive Antell again kept Nairn level on 66 minutes with a magnificent double save. Mackay drove forward at the heart of the County defence and skipped a couple of challenges before playing in David Allan. The striker thought he was about to put his team back in front but Antell had other ideas making a block with his leg before topping that save to keep out Allan’s rebound with the help of the post after the ball had landed straight back at the Wick attacker’s feet.
There’s was nothing the goalkeeper could on 77 minutes though as Mackay put his side back in front. He started the move by driving forward from the centre circle before playing the ball out to Allan on the right. Sam Mackay continued his run into the box to meet Allan’s low delivery before having the composure to step past a challenge and stroke the ball beyond Antell.
But Nairn took just three minutes to haul themselves level. Sam Urquhart peeled off at the back post and Conor Gethins had the vision to pick out his strike partner with a chipped pass from the right edge of the penalty area. Urquhart had the time to take a touch before blasting decisively above the advancing McCarthy and into the roof of the net.
And the home side should have taken the lead for the first time on 82 minutes. Paul Macleod met a Gethins corner from the left with a towering header across goal at the back post. Sub Tony Wallace met it with a header at the front post that he put over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Nairn County – Antell, Webb, P. Macleod, Morrison, Mackintosh, Pollock, Gethins, Gregg Main (yellow 68) (C. Maclean 87), Urquhart (Cameron 84), A. Naismith, Duncanson (Wallace 71), Glenn Main. Subs unused: R. Naismith, Skinner, McKenzie, S. Maclean (gk).
Wick Academy – S. McCarthy, D. Mackay, Farquhar, G. Steven, Pickles, S. Mackay, Campbell, MacAdie (R. Allan 77), D. Allan, Harrison, Weir. Subs unused: M. Steven, MacGregor, Hughes, MacRae, Manson, D. McCarthy (gk).
Referee – David Watt.
Pictures by Donald Matheson