A closely fought match in Halkirk went the way of St. Duthus on Saturday, as they picked up their first win of the 2020-21 season - and kept a clean sheet into the bargain.
St. Duthus started the game with the most unfamiliar of back lines. Midfielder Jon Campbell, dropping back for a shift at centre half, was joined by new addition Andrew Macleod, who last played for Saints as a trialist back in 2018. Also making a welcome return was full-back and former Young Player of the Year, Adam MacDonald, who wore the red and white for the first time since recovering from a bad knee injury sustained over three years ago.
Halkirk had the better of things in the early going despite the ball moving freely from end to end. Ben Gordon was first to threaten for Halkirk on 11 minutes when he sent an inviting ball into the eighteen yard box, only just evading the onrushing Jonah Martens at the far post.
It took until the 20 minute mark for the first shot on goal to be registered. A long throw from Liam Rostock was nodded into the path of Ben Bruce who did well to hook the ball towards goal. The shot, though, was easily held by Lewis Gallacher.
Six minutes later, Gallacher was called into action again and had to make a good save from Cammy Mackintosh. A long kick out from Johnny Allan reached Jake Lockett who laid off to Ben Bruce, and the striker found Mackintosh in space on the right hand side, but the midfielder's shot on target was saved low and turned away for a corner.
On 39 minutes, Johnny Allan came to the rescue with an excellent reaction save to deny Jonah Martens, after the Halkirk forward had cut inside the box to fire a wicked shot at goal. A couple of minutes later, Allan had to be ready again this time getting on the end of a Kyle Henderson shot after a quick counter sent the Halkirk man through on the left wing.
A goalless first half was closed out with a Cammy Mackintosh shot fired over the crossbar, having held firm in the face of a late series of Halkirk counter attacks.
Saints got the second half underway in fighting fashion and put Halkirk under pressure from the restart. That didn't prevent Ben Gordon from almost netting the opener, breaking clear on the counter only to be stopped by a well timed tackle from Adam Allan to stop the striker getting a shot away.
On 55 minutes, Ben Bruce was fouled twice in succession after some good play down the left hand side, the latter resulting in the first booking of the match being shown to Andrew Mackay.
There were cries for handball moments later when a precise cross sent into the box by Sean Scott appeared to be taken down by the arm of Halkirk's John Budge, but the referee waved play on.
At the other end, Halkirk must have been beginning to read the signs that it wasn't going to be their day, when the ball fell to Kyle Henderson after Johnny Allan had parried a Jonah Martens shot - only for Henderson to fire the ball over the bar and off the stand.
St. Duthus almost scored immediately after that miss when Ben Bruce won the ball and broke into the box, showing great individual skill to fire towards goal, but with the ball about to cross the line, Halkirk substitute Jordan Howden hooked it clear.
A flurry of corner kicks followed as Saints continued to knock on the door. Gallacher in the Halkirk goal had to produce an excellent stop to deny Cammy Mackintosh, whose headed effort on the end of a James Mackay corner was destined for the top corner.
The opening goal eventually arrived on 74 minutes, and it was the captain again in the mix this time finding the net. Finn As-Chainey flashed the ball across the face of goal and after Jake Lockett's initial attempt was blocked, Mackintosh made no mistake on the rebound to make it 1-0.
Halkirk were unlucky not to immediately equalise when they broke clear on the counter attack just a couple of minutes later; Kyle Henderson hitting the upright with a shot from twelve yards.
Saints held firm though, and they sealed victory with a minute of normal time remaining when Jake Lockett took advantage of a poor throw in to grab possession, laying the ball back to Ben Bruce - and the striker made no mistake with a well placed finish into the far corner to net his fourth of the season.
Five minutes of injury time resulted in very little response from Halkirk as St. Duthus defended well and saw out the clean sheet - their first in almost a year.
Lewis Gallacher, James Mackintosh (c), Stewart Atkins, John Budge (bkd 90), Mark Webster (Don Swanson 80), Chrissy Green (Jordan Howden 64), Ben Gordon (Louis Webster 85), Kyle Henderson, Jonah Martens, Andrew Mackay (bkd 55), Korbyn Cameron
Subs not used: Ross Mackay, Cameron Mackay
John Allan, Adam Allan, Adam MacDonald (Sean Scott 51), James Mackay, Andrew Macleod, Jon Campbell (bkd 90), Finn As-Chainey, Cammy Mackintosh (c), Ben Bruce, Jake Lockett, Liam Rostock (Keir Carson 61)
Subs not used: Aneek Khan, Taylor Anderson
Referee: Graham Elder
Assistants: Stephen Tait & Paul Reid
Photos: James Gunn
Highlights courtesy of Darren Manson, Picture House, Thurso.