THE PENDULUM swung from end-to-end at Station Park and despite again giving themselves an uphill struggle against Wick Academy, Nairn County battled back to earn a point and probably should have taken all three, writes Graeme Macleod.
County got off to the worst possible start as Wick took the lead after just 20 seconds. Academy took centre, knocked the ball back and a long pass forward put David Allan in behind Michael Morrison. He advanced in on goal and squared for Sam Mackay to stroke home the opener from six yards.
Nairn hit the target on five minutes with Gregg Main's in-swinging free kick from the left that only needed a touch to divert it beyond the goalkeeper but flew into the welcoming arms of Wick stopper Sean McCarthy.
Two minutes later, Robbie Duncanson's cross was flicked on by Conor Gethins but Andrew Skinner's sweeping low shot from 15 yards was clutched by McCarthy.
County continued to respond well to the early set back and a curling Gethins free kick from 22 yards out flashed just past the left hand post.
Wick came back into it though and doubled their lead on 16 minutes. Richard MacAdie had the time to take the ball down out on the right and lift his head before picking out the unmarked Steven Anderson in the penalty area. The wide man was free to rise and nod home his side's second of the night from eight yards.
The hosts got back into it with a fortuitous goal out of nothing on 21 minutes. Alan Pollock lifted his head and tried a strike from 25 yards out to the right of goal. It seemed like a simple save for McCarthy but a deflection off one of his centre halves left the Wick stopper helpless as the ball flashed beyond him.
A Gethins free kick to the back post from the right was attacked by both Callum Maclean and Sam Uruquart on 26 minutes but neither could contrive to divert the ball on target.
County almost levelled on 36 minutes. A short corner on the right was played to Skinner. The full back beat two men before bending a curling effort inches past the far post.
Academy threatened on 42 minutes but James McLean's first time, side-footed effort from 15 yards was deflected past the post by Adam Naismith's chest.
A neat one-two saw Gethins teed up the hard-working Urquhart on 44 minutes but his low drive from the edge of the box went just wide.
County threatened three minutes after the restart when Duncanson fired the ball out the Skinner on the left wing. His header was flicked on by Urquhart for Gethins to hit on the turn but the striker never made a true connection and sent the ball spinning past the post.
Duncanson was again the source of Nairn's next attack. His sweeping pass out to the left on 53 minutes found Urquhart, who fell over the ball as he drove in on goal. He managed to regain his footing before the Wick full back recovered but blasted over the crossbar at the near post.
A minute later, Urquhart was causing the Wick defence more problems. He found himself in behind the Academy defence and just as he was about to lift the ball beyond advancing goalkeeper McCarthy, he was floored by a desperate challenge from behind by Michael Steven. The defender was correctly dismissed for denying a goal scoring opportunity and Conor Gethins stepped up to convert the spot kick on 55 minutes to level us up and complete Nairn's impressive start to the second half.
Parity lasted just three minutes though as 10-man Wick re-established their lead. Sam Mackay whipped in an in-swinging free kick from the left that took the slightest of touches off David Allan to deceive Antell as the ball dropped in at the far post.
A topsy-turvy game was level again on the hour-mark. Duncanson played a short corner kick from the left to Andrew Skinner and although his first time drive was blocked, the ball fell perfectly for the full back to rifle an unstoppable drive beyond the helpless McCarthy.
Harrison almost grabbed his second of the night on 65 minutes but his volley from 15 yards was excellently blocked by the chest of the diving Antell with the ball taking a tricky bounce right in front of the County number one.
Urquhart dipped the shoulder to take two defenders out of the equation on 67 minutes but his low left-footed shot across goal struck the base of the post and rolled to safety to the relief of the beaten McCarthy.
Both teams pressed for a winner but despite Nairn having the lion's share of the possession and territory, County could not find a way through the resolute Wick back line.
Nairn County - Antell, P. Macleod (yellow 79), Morrison (Cameron 82), Pollock, Gethins, Gregg Main (y 22), Urquhart, Skinner, A. Naismith, C. Maclean (y 34) (Glenn Main 77), Duncanson. Subs unused: R. Naismith, Macrae, Cameron, McKenzie, D. Maclean (gk).
Wick Academy - S. McCarthy, M. Steven, G. Steven, Farquhar, D. Mackay, R. Allan (yellow 40), McLean (Manson 58), S. Mackay (y 88), MacAdie, D. Allan (y 71), Harrison (y 87). Subs unused: Macrae, MacGregor, Hughes, D. McCarthy (gk).
Referee - Mark Stewart