0 - 4
0 - 4
Martin Johnston (36)
Eric Watson (45)
Martin Johnston (?)
Jerry O'Driscoll (90)
John Beaton & Brian Wright
Shaun Kerr for Scott Graham (63)
Robbie Henderson for Barrie Stephen (77)
Jerry O'Driscoll for Jamie Watt (85)
Gary Black (27)
Stephen Skinner (34)
|Eric Watson (19)|
Gary Black (82)
It was not the homecoming Nairn County had hoped for as they were well and truly brought back down to earth with a bump by champions Cove Rangers.
It was the North of Scotland Cup holders' first home outing since defeating Keith on September 13. But the Nairn team looked nervous and their passing was erratic, which contrasted largely to the performance in the outstanding win at Huntly last week.
Cove thoroughly deserved to go home with all three points. In the first half, Nairn found it hard to get close to the visitors as Cove's passing and movement was a lot quicker than their hosts. The second half saw Nairn compete a lot better but they failed to put the visitors under away real pressure.
It was a hard enough task for the home side with 11 men on the park so when Gary Black was red carded it put even more pressure on his teammates, although it seemed the referee was determined to single out the ex-Forres full back during the first half.
Manager Les Fridge kept faith with the same starting line up from last week at Huntly. The only change was among the substitutes as top scorer Shaun Kerr returned from suspension to take a place on the bench as Harry Rae made way. That meant a competitive home bow for goalkeeper Callum Donaldson, who had a busy afternoon but again excelled between the sticks saving two penalties during the game.
The visitors opened the scoring after 35 minutes when former Elgin City forward Martin Johnston showed his class to beat Donaldson with an overhead kick. It could have been worse for County when Cove were awarded a penalty but Donaldson denied Jamie Watt from 12 yards. But the reigning Highland League champions grabbed the decisive second goal of the game when Eric Watson netted on the stroke of half time. Johnston then found himself unmarked in the box to head home his second goal of the day after the break before Nairn were reduced to 10 men when Black was dismissed for a second yellow card when he conceded another penalty.
Johnston stepped up looking to complete his hat trick but again Donaldson excelled by blocking the penalty. But the goalkeeper was left exposed when Jerry O'Driscoll struck late on to secure a comfortable Cove win.
Cove were first out of the traps and had Nairn on the back foot in the first minute as Barrie Stephen crossed for Dean Lawrie to slide his shot just wide of Donaldson's goal. It was an early warning of what was to come for the home side throughout the first half as Cove simply overpowered County in the midfield.
As the home side struggled to take a grip of proceedings, in particular Gary Black looked off his game and a loose pass by the Nairn right back in the fourth minute let Jamie Watt in but his weak shot was easily scooped up by Donaldson.
Nairn's first real attack didn't come until the 26th minute but Duncan Jones's cross-come-shot drifted harmlessly wide.
Black was then booked for a late tackle on Stephen after 35 minutes and the Cove winger looked as if he needed the physio's attention. The referee duly summoned the Cove physio onto the pitch but to the Nairn fans' fury, Stephen needed no treatment at all. And in an even stranger moment, the referee allowed the wide man to take the free kick without even leaving the pitch.
County could only partially clear the set piece and the ball was launched back into the Nairn box. Martin Johnston then showed his class as he hitch-kicked the ball over the diving Donaldson and high into the top corner of the net to give the visitors the lead with a goal of real class.
Nairn responded well though and Scott Graham was sent free on goal. But the speedy forward could only watch on in agony as his attempt skimmed past the wrong side of the post. It was to be a costly miss for the home side.
Cove went up the park and had the chance to double their lead when Watt chased a seemingly lost cause and dragged the ball along the by-line into the box. He was then barged over by Black with the referee pointing to the penalty spot. The former Deveronvale striker stepped up himself but his effort from 12 yards was blocked by the diving Donaldson, who repaid the faith his manager had shown in him.
Nairn were now praying for the half time whistle so they could get in at the break only a goal behind and look to get going after the interval. But there was still time for Johnston to pull out a fantastic stop out of Donaldson on 43 minutes. The ball then broke into the path of Lawrie and his net-bound shot was cleared off the line by Black.
But Cove were not to be denied as Eric Watson steered home a Stephen corner at the back post on the stroke of half time to leave County with a real uphill struggle to get back into the game.
Nairn upped their game in the second half and were more in Cove's faces. But it was the visitors who threatened first when a Ritchie Livingstone free kick was well held by Donaldson low to his right two minutes after the restart.
Good play by the very quiet Willie Barron saw him cut back from the by-line for Jones to unleash a rasping shot but it was too straight and Cove goalkeeper Lee Windrum gathered easily.
Nairn sent on top scorer Shaun Kerr for Graham on 64 minutes with Barron moving up front to partner the lethal marksman, a move which puzzled the home support as the Kerr/Graham partnership has proved to be so successful this season.
With Nairn now pushing to get a toe-hold on the game, even more space opened up for the visitors and a Watt shot was deflected for a corner. But some very slack marking allowed Martin Johnston to nod home from the resulting flag kick and the game was as good as over.
Then on 82 minutes, County were reduced to 10 men when Black was shown a second yellow card after conceding his second penalty of the afternoon. This time it was Johnston who was entrusted from 12 yards but again Donaldson produced the goods as he denied the ex-Brechin City man the match ball with a fine diving save to his left.
But Cove were not to denied their fourth goal of the afternoon as substitute Jerry O'Driscoll swept home from six yards late on with Donaldson left over-exposed.
|Callum Donaldson (GK)||23||3||-||8||-|
|Shaun Kerr (sub)||22||13||9||45||26|
No league table has been added for this season.