A LAST MINUTE goal denied St Duthus an opening day win at Station Park this afternoon as Nairn County U20s ultimately edged victory on penalties to advance to the next round of the Football Times Cup.
It was all change for St Duthus as they lined up together for the first time competitively since the summer break. Debuts in the first eleven were handed to goalkeeper Danny McCarthy, centre half Paul Beaton and midfield men Robbie Murray and Liam Hutchinson, while Kyle Stewart and Jordan MacKinnon were named on the bench.
The Saints got things off to a good start and after just three minutes, supporters were offered a reminder of the threat posed by Finn As-Chainey down the left side, as he broke clear and fizzed a ball low across the face of goal.
At the other end, Saints debutant goalkeeper Danny McCarthy was first to be called into action, saving low on the receiving end of a Ciaran Young drive.
Andy Young sent a shot just over the bar from distance on seven minutes as the Saints enjoyed the lion's share of possession in their opponents' half, while County remained content to hit on the counter.
Cammy Mackintosh was unlucky not to hit the target just before the 20 minute mark with a shot over the bar after a layoff from Jake Lockett. A minute later, trialist Iain Ross went on a mazy run covering 30 yards before forcing a save low into the corner.
Five minutes of madness saw Nairn quickly go two goals up. A pass down the right found Ryan MacBean who had a shot on goal - but McCarthy blocked well. He could only send it back into play though, and Ciaran YOUNG was on hand for Nairn to slot home the rebound.
Four minutes later it was 2-0. An Eadie through ball reached MACBEAN and the striker found himself clean through to slide the ball under McCarthy to leave the Saints shellshocked.
Looking to bounce back quickly, Jake Lockett tested the Nairn keeper Aidan Stewart with a shot on the turn and As-Chainey also tested the keeper on 32 minutes with a tame shot.
A howler from Stewart eventually handed St Duthus a way back into the game on 34 minutes. From a corner, Iain ROSS watched as his ball into the box sailed through the grasp of the County keeper and flew into the net for a fortuitous but welcome equaliser.
Half time: Nairn County 2 St Duthus 1
A back and forth start to the second half saw Saints edge the better of play. Seven minutes in, it was all level. A deep cross was played into the path of ROSS who advanced quickly to send a header onto the upright. With Stewart all at sea, the ball fell back down to the feet of Ross and the midfield man rifled it home.
Substitutes Scott Miller and Jack Lingard had the Nairn back line on their toes following their introduction as the Saints began to press for a winner.
The Saints completed the comeback when they took the lead with a quarter hour remaining. The goal arrived thanks to LINGARD who rose above everyone in the box to direct a header into the top corner of the net after great delivery into the box from Ross.
The Saints weren't yet finished. A long ball from Paul Beaton to As-Chainey allowed the winger to sail a ball into the box, but on the receiving end, Cammy Mackintosh's headed effort was directed just over.
It looked as though the Tain side had booked their place in the next round - that was until the final minute of the game when Ian PAYNE found space down the left wing. The Nairn man advanced towards the edge of the box and with a cool finish he found the far corner to make it 3-3.
Full time: Nairn County 3 St Duthus 3
In the penalty shoot-out that followed, the Saints ultimately fell by 4 kicks to 3. The misfortune rested on the shoulders of both Jack Lingard and Scott Miller who both saw their spot kicks saved by Nairn's Stewart, with McCarthy stopping only Jack Maclean.
Nairn County – Stewart, Cuthbert, McDermott (Geddes 79), Robertson, Wheeler, Cameron Maclean (Davidson 76), Eadie, Jack Maclean (bkd 86), MacBean, Young, Mitchell (Payne 76)
Subs unused: Campbell, Cruden
St Duthus – McCarthy, Young, Beeston, Broomfield, Beaton, Murray, Hutchinson (Lingard 56), Mackintosh, Lockett (Miller 68), Ross (Stewart 80), As-Chainey
Subs unused: MacKinnon, Fell
Referee – Stephen McDade
Assistants – None
Man of the Match – Iain Ross (St Duthus)
Match gallery – https://flic.kr/s/aHsmhRTR8W