Written by Nairn County FC October 17th 2020

We returned to the North Caledonian League with a bang today as our Reserves chalked up a 3-1 success away at Inverness Athletic on the opening day of the season. Ciaran Young grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick but there was no shortage of man of the match contenders all throughout Stuart Finnie’s young side, with the Reserves Head Coach naming a team that had an average age of just 18.1 years. The victory is our first in 10 attempts against North Caledonian League clubs having entered the cup competitions over the previous four seasons, suffering defeat in nine ties and beating St Duthus on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw – including an 8-1 loss to today’s opponents just over 12 months ago. The win puts Finnie’s youngsters level with Loch Ness at the top of table, with the Inverness side ahead on goal difference thanks to an 11-1 win over Scourie. Finnie said: “We are absolutely delighted with the win. I thought we were well worth it and the boys were superb – they were hungry, focussed and ready for the game. “It was good that the subs made a difference as well. I feel we have a really good squad this season and it was a very difficult decision to name a team and a bench with us only being able to name five subs. We know we have plenty of quality in reserve and if we make changes as the season goes on, I do not expect it to impact the overall standard of the team.” He added: “You could see the confidence of the boys growing as the game went on. We had a wee wobble when Inverness pulled a goal back but to be fair to the lads, they dug in and got on with it. Some of our play was really good and we made plenty of chances – if we just had a bit more quality with our final ball, we could have scored more. “They had a couple of goals disallowed but the officials got them both correct, so fair play to them. You have got to remember that as well as the players being out of action for eight months, the officials have not had a competitive game for the same time but I thought the referee managed the game really well and got all the big calls spot on. “All in all, it is a very satisfying start to the season but it is only a start. I have told the boys to enjoy the win but to come back to training on Monday hungry to learn and improve on today for what will be a very tough game next week against Loch Ness, who had a superb result today. “Kudos also to Sandy (Stephen, Inverness Athletic Chairman) and his committee for the setup for today’s game. It certainly made us feel comfortable and also credit to the league for getting the games started. Our boys are delighted to have football to come to and we are happy because of how good it is for their mental health, which is really important to us for guys of that age at this challenging time. “I would also like to wish Inverness Athletic all the best for the rest of the season.” Finnie was without Scott Murray and Archie Kennedy through injury which meant his team was: Nairn County Reserves – Gus Wilson, Liam Balfour, John Grant, Scott Mutch, Nathan Grant, Euan Logan, Lewis Mitchell, Sam Gordon (Robbie Mackenzie 81), Logan Hallam (Kieran Duffty 71), Ciaran Young (Kyle MacDonald 87), Darren Mota. Subs unused: Duncan Robertson, Louis Gordon. Inverness Athletic – Ryan Macleod, Connor Smith, Lewis Smith, Liam Symonds, Craig Morrison, Ryan Kiel, Lennox Lauder-Smith, Jack Wardrop, Ross Munro, Matty Shewan, Finlay Macleod. Subs (all used): Harry Shewan, Luke Mackay, Jordan Mackinnon, Gary Calvert, Sam Ross. Referee – Eddie Nichol. Logan Hallam had a great chance to break the deadlock nine minutes in when he was played in by a flicked pass from Sam Gordon. The ball bounced up though and the striker wanted the extra touch to settle it, which meant his shot was blocked for a corner by a defender. Lewis Mitchell then collected a slack clearance from Inverness goalkeeper Ryan Macleod on 15 minutes and his shot from 25 yards went inches past the post. Sam Gordon then had a low shot from 20 yards out that was gathered by Macleod after a good move down the Nairn left involving Euan Logan, Hallam and Darren Mota. We had the battle fever on as we continued to dominate the early proceedings with the ball sitting up nicely for Nathan Grant to volley goalwards from just outside the box on 23 minutes. But his powerful drive was superbly pushed wide by Macleod. The opener arrived two minutes later though with Mitchell finding Ciaran Young with a cut back from the right. The chance looked to have gone when the striker turned outside instead of shooting but he twisted past the defender to open up the goal and then smashed a searing effort into the top right-hand corner from 10 yards. Gordon saw his volley held by Macleod on 35 minutes but Nairn added a second just a minute later. Again, it was Mitchell with the delivery from the right, with his cross missed by Macleod and deflecting off a defender to hit Young just a few yards out from goal before dropping over the line. Inverness put the pressure on in the last 10 minutes of the half though and had their first shot on goal six minutes before the break. But Finlay Macleod’s free kick from 20 yards was comfortably held by Gus Wilson. Wilson was called into action again on 42 minutes as he pushed Jack Wardrop’s free kick around the post. Then, from the resulting corner kick, Athletic had a goal disallowed with Wilson having been bundled into the net along with the ball. Nairn started the second half brightly and on 54 minutes, Gordon slipped in Mota who ran in off the left touchline to meet the ball but his strike was touched over by Macleod at his near post. Inverness pulled a goal back on 63 minutes when Gary Calvert knocked the ball home from close range after an Athletic shot from the right had come back off the inside of the post as the substitute netted with his first touch. Logan saw a low shot spilled wide by Macleod two minutes later as Nairn looked to immediately re-establish the two-goal lead. The County youngsters retreated more and more into their own half as the match wore on though and looked to soak up the pressure before hitting on the break. That invited Inverness forward and the hosts won a number of corner kicks and free kicks in promising areas. Wilson made a great save at his near post off a free kick from the right on 68 minutes and then Lennox Lauder-Smith’s volley from 22 yards on 72 minutes flew past the post. The visitors defended well and looked likely to see out the win. And that was made sure with a third goal on 83 minutes. Mitchell played in substitute Kieran Duffty, who turned on to his left foot and shot across goal from the right edge of the box. His effort was only parried by Macleod, with Young on hand to smuggle the ball home at the far post to complete his hat-trick and ease County nerves. Inverness had another goal disallowed when Luke Mackay found the net on 89 minutes but the ball was laid off to him by a team mate who was about two yards offside. We could have made it even more comfortable when Duffty weaved his way in from the right along the by-line in the fourth minute of injury time before shooting against the near post. The ball spun across goal to Kyle MacDonald, but the young forward was denied by a goal line clearance.

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