This match may not have meant anything in the grand scheme of things in this season’s North Caledonian League. But try telling that to these two young sides who served up a rip-roaring contest at the Riverside. Visitors Alness United had already claimed the league championship while we were guaranteed to finish in the runners up spot regardless of the outcome of this one. And although we went 2-0 down 10 minutes into the second half, our youngsters showed great spirit to battle back and earn a 4-2 win, ending Alness’s hopes of an unbeaten season at the final hurdle. Head Coach Stuart Finnie had goalkeeper Gus Wilson to thank for keeping his side in it with TWO penalty saves in the first half, although the rebound for the first one was knocked in for the opener. Finnie did not have his selection troubles to seek going into his side’s first league match for exactly six months with regulars John Grant, Robbie Mackenzie, Euan Logan, Ciaran Young, Logan Hallam, Lewis Mitchell, Liam Balfour, Louis Gordon and Callum Morrison all unavailable for a variety of reasons. Will Jack from the Under-18s was drafted straight into the starting line-up while there were debuts off the bench for his U18s teammates Sean Murray and Dean Calderwood. Trialists Tyler Eadie and Shaun Young started and came off the bench respectively. Indeed, Finnie was that short of bodies he had to name himself and our Director of Football Graeme Macleod on the bench as trialists! Luckily for them both, they were not needed. Nairn County – Gus Wilson, Tyler Eadie, Darren Mota (Sean Murray 76), Duncan Robertson, Nathan Grant, Will Jack, Sam Gordon, Scott Mutch, Kyle MacDonald (Dean Calderwood 85), Kieran Duffty, Ryan Moodie (Shaun Young 76). Finnie said: “It was a really enjoyable game. Even though we ended up 2-0 down, I thought we were playing well and with a bit more quality in the final third, we would have had some goals in the first half. “Credit to Gus for making two penalty saves as he kept us in it but he was let down badly by his team mates for the first one as no one challenged the rebound. “When we went 2-0 down I was disappointed for the boys as they had put so much into it but to come back like they did in the last 20 minutes by scoring four it was unbelievable and I could not be prouder of the squad today. “We were missing so many boys but the young lads who stepped in and then Tyler and Shaun the trialists were all excellent, so all in all, it is brilliant to finish the season like this.” He added: “It was really good to see both teams blooding so many young players and it made for a good game. My congratulations go to Alness on deservedly winning the league, they have been brilliant and were the best team we played all season when they beat us up there.” A positive run by Sam Gordon – who also took part in a full 3-hour pre-season session with the First Team in the morning alongside Scott Mutch – down the left on six minutes saw him deliver an inviting ball which had to be touched past the far post by a covering defender. Alness took the opportunity to play some of their youngsters with the league already won and 16-year-old goalkeeper Lewis Bannerman sent a long kick down field on six minutes that caught the Nairn defence out and was latched on to by Callum Gow but he flicked his shot past the post. Joel Burnett bulldozed his way in on goal for Alness on nine minutes before seeing his effort hacked off the line by Eadie before the same player fired wide a minute later. We then enjoyed a positive period and Eadie drove into the box from the right and saw his effort with the outside of his boot saved by Bannerman at the near post. The visitors went ahead 10 minutes before the break though when Sam Gordon was penalised for pulling down Michael Mackenzie in the penalty box. Mackenzie took on the responsibility himself from 12 yards but was denied by Gus Wilson, although Callum Gow was quickest to react to net the rebound. Just a minute later, the grounded Nathan Grant stretched out an arm to block a cross from the left and referee Gordon Seago awarded a second penalty to Alness. This time Gordon Finlayson took on the responsibility and again Wilson made a superb save, with his teammates on hand this time to clear the loose ball. Wilson excelled again on 43 minutes when he parried a powerful 22-yard volley by Mackenzie past the post. The visitors started the second half well and just three minutes in, Burnett found himself in space inside the box but Wilson was alert enough to narrow the angle and force the Alness attacker to shoot off target. But United assumed full control on 55 minutes with substitute Struan Coli outmuscling Grant and coolly knocked his shot beyond Wilson. We passed up a great chance to get back into it just four minutes later though. Ryan Moodie clipped in a cross from the left that was met by a side-footed volley from Eadie at the far post but he directed his effort off target. United’s Mike Rae brought out another save from Wilson on the hour-mark as the Nairn goalkeeper dived to his right to palm away the Alness midfielder’s volley. Three minutes later, Moodie’s clipped ball over the top found the unmarked Duffty. But he miscued his shot with Bannerman saving well and another Nairn chance was gone. We grabbed a lifeline with 20 minutes remaining though after Scott Mutch was fouled in the penalty area. Duffty stepped up to roll home the penalty. Then, on 77 minutes, Duncan Robertson’s long ball forward was controlled by Duffty 12 yards out to the left of goal. He took a touch inside the defender and lashed a right-footed effort into the net at the near post. We then won it in dramatic fashion in the final minute. Sam Gordon whipped in a corner from the right and Duncan Robertson rose above the Alness defence to crash home a thumping header. With Alness pushing for a leveller in injury time, we caught them on the break to seal the win. Gordon fed Young down the left as we countered on the visitors’ exposed defence. He cut inside and although he could not get his shot away, he teed up Duffty who rifled home to complete his hat-trick.