St. Duthus 4 Halkirk United 4

A series of setbacks undid lots of good work Saints had to settle for a point against league leaders Halkirk United yesterday, in a match which for the most part they had firmly in their control.

There were three changes to the side who lost at Nairn last week, with Lewis Smith coming in for Duncan Davidson, Ross Tokely replacing Connor Smith and Billy Cairns coming in for the absent Kyle Mackenzie. Adrian Voigt made his first competitive appearance, while returning player/coach Justin Rogers also took a spot on the bench.

Ben Bruce took just two minutes to put the Halkirk goal under pressure, turning well in possession just outside the box before firing a shot just over the crossbar.

A flurry of corners put the Halkirk defence in trouble on 16 minutes, and their goalkeeper did well to palm a chance clear but could do nothing to stop the eventual opener on 16 minutes. A corner kick sent into the area by Paul Gair was poorly dealt with by the visitors and pouncing on a loose ball, Billy Cairns forced the ball past Kieron McLeod to make it 1-0.

Almost immediately after the restart, a quick ball down the left from Finn As-Chainey sent Jake Lockett clean through on goal and he forced a save from McLeod at his near post.

Lockett nearly found the net again on 22 minutes when a long ball from Ryan Renwick was flicked into his path by Bruce, but his first time shot missed the target.

Four minutes later, a free kick awarded for handball went the way of the Anglers and from the set piece, Jonah Martens found the target with a powerful drive - but Ryan Renwick in the Saints goal was up to the task with a good save.

At the other end, Saints doubled their lead just before the half hour mark when a quick move between Gary Millard and Ross Tokely allowed the latter to swing a perfect cross into the box for Ben Bruce to head past McLeod. 

A couple of minutes later, a free kick along the ground found Ross Tokely in the area but the midfielder's shot on the turn was stopped by McLeod.

Shortly after, Saints were looking to referee Stephen McDade for a penalty award as it appeared that Lockett was felled inside the area after breaking clear of the last man - but the official waved play on.

A penalty award did come at the other end with eight minutes of the half remaining when a ball into the area seemed to strike the arm of a Saints player. From the resultant spot kick, Andrew Mackay found the bottom left hand corner with a confident effort to half the scoreline.

Gary Millard nearly restored the two goal deficit with a fantastic long range effort, meeting the ball from a short corner before forcing a good save from McLeod.

The second half started in calamitous circumstances for Saints as they relinquished their lead with only a minute of the second half on the clock. Collecting the ball from a long kick out, Jonah Martens cut inside and found the far corner with a precise shot that gave Renwick little chance. At 2-2, any advantage had been reset for the second half.

It took Saints just four minutes to sneak back ahead though, and it was the persistence of Man of the Match Jake Lockett which eventually paid off after a string of shots on goal. Breaking clear, Lockett first saw his shot saved by McLeod before the rebound effort was headed off the line by Aidan Reid. Ben Bruce reacted first and forced another save from McLeod, but Lockett was not to be denied at the third time of asking as he fired the ball high into the net to make it 3-2.

The home side took a further stride forward when they went 4-2 up on 54 minutes when Cairns played Bruce in on the right hand side and after a couple of turns he found the far corner with a great finish.

Despite Saints looking in firm control, a defensive lapse on 61 minutes allowed Halkirk a way back into the game to reduce the gap by one goal. A Mackay cross evaded the Saints defence before it fell to Martens, and the former Wick Academy man stuck the ball beyond Renwick for his second of the afternoon. 

But St. Duthus stayed in the goal hunt. Substitute Adrian Voigt was unlucky shortly after coming on for Bruce when Cairns looped a ball over the back line and into the path of the forward, but Voigt's lob over McLeod also cleared the crossbar.

Finn As-Chainey offered a reminder of his threat out on the wing when he broke along the byline before cutting the ball back into the box. It was eventually laid off to Alan Geegan who let fly with a wicked shot that flew just past the post.

On the hunt for the hat-trick Martens was unlucky with an effort on 75 minutes after cutting inside beyond his man before firing a shot on target. Renwick though read the shot well and got down low to hold it.

Lockett looked to have unlocked the Halkirk defence once again with ten minutes remaining after he broke down the left and dinked the ball over an onrushing McLeod. His square ball to Cairns though resulted in nothing as the striker was tackled at the last minute before he could fire into the empty net.

It seemed as though Saints might see the game out with just two minutes left - but disaster befell the home side as a harmless long free kick from McLeod was misjudged by Renwick, and the ball fell into the net to level the scores at 4-4.

That was almost all she wrote - were it not for a late penalty award for a foul on Alan Geegan. A last minute winner was not to be though, as veteran forward Liam Rostock grabbed the ball and stepped up to fire the ball wide of the post from 12 yards.

And so it was a late smash and grab for Halkirk - and bitter disappointment for Saints who will feel very aggrieved to be sharing the points at the end of this one.

Renwick, A Allan (Davidson 57), Millard, Skinner, L Smith (Rogers 83), Gair (Geegan 64), Lockett, As-Chainey, Bruce (Voigt 58), Tokely, Cairns (Rostock 86)

Referee: Stephen McDade
Assistants: Daniel Jack and Michael Bicknell

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