THE under-20s’ Jock Mackay Cup participation was ended by the Lewis and Harris Select after a battling performance at the Highland Football Academy in Dingwall.
Ryan MacBean’s goal had Nairn leading at the break but James Morrison bagged a quickfire double to turn the game on its head within 10 minutes of the second half beginning.
Morrison then notched another double late on with County pushing hard for a leveller to round off the scoring.
Coach Stuart Finnie said: “I thought 4-1 was harsh on the boys in the end given the effort and hard work they put into the tie. We were really disappointed with how it went up at Halkirk in our last game two months ago, so we had to take stock and think about how we were playing as we lost goals far too easily. I wanted to set up to be a more solid and compact as we knew we were up against a really good team given Lewis and Harris’s record in these competitions. I asked the boys for a response and I felt we got that – for 52 minutes, the game plan worked a treat and I lost count of the number of times we won the ball high up the park in the first half, which led to us scoring a brilliant goal after a super cross from Seamus (McConaghy) and a great control and finish from Beans (Ryan MacBean).
“But we let them back in it with some very basic mistakes that should not be happening. We need to learn quickly from that but it has been a testing time with us only playing twice in three months and struggling for training facilities because of the weather.
“At 2-1, we came back into it and made three or four good chances and were on the front foot but a bit punt down the park from their goalkeeper was not dealt with properly and all of a sudden, we found ourselves 3-1 down with just five minutes left.
“We were under a lot of pressure but I thought we coped with it really well. The boys stuck to the game plan and although Lewis and Harris had most of the possession, we took our chance when it came along and went in at the break in front thanks to a really good goal.
“The disappointing aspect is that we conceded an equaliser and then conceded another goal immediately after it. That is down to a lack of focus and concentration. We then went 3-1 down when we were getting closer to an equaliser and then let another goal in straight after it. That is the same as what happened up at Halkirk and we need to find a way of stopping it.
“We went in with a team of 16 and 17 year olds up against adults, so of course we are going to struggle physically, which means that set pieces and cross balls into our box were always going to cause us problems but I thought we dealt with that side of the game really well. We were not intimidated and we stood up to it when we needed to.
“We just seemed to run out of steam in the second half though after putting so much effort into the first half. We have not played in two months, so that was always likely to happen and we were up against a really good side who were able to punish us and capitalise on our mistakes when they started to creep in.
“If we had managed to keep it to 1-1 for longer or had managed to nick a goal to make it 2-2 then we could have gone on from there to go in front again but it was not to be and we wish Lewis & Harris all the best in the next round.”
Finnie handed debuts to Angus Davidson from the under-17s from the start with his fellow U17s squad members Logan Hallam and Duncan Robertson appearing as second half subs.
Finnie added: “Angus did well at the back in a position that is not overly familiar to him. He is not short on confidence and hopefully he enjoyed it and can take something out of it. Logan made a great impact when he came on too and was unfortunate not to score while it was good for Duncan to get a taste of it as well.
“It is important that these boys go back to the under-17s and apply themselves properly. Just because they have been involved with the under-20s now it does not mean they have made it – they have to impress Mark (Greig) and Craig (Mackenzie, under-17s coaches) in the under-17s if they want to get themselves into our squad again and move up in the summer. That is the message to all of the under-17s boys – if they show the correct attitude, application and impress their coaches then we will give them a chance.”
Lewis and Harris settled first and almost scored straight from kick-off with James Morrison drilling into the side netting after cutting in from the left before Micheil Smith fired off target.
Nairn were working hard to close Lewis and Harris down in their own half and were beginning to see some joy in their attempts to win the ball high up the park. One such interception saw the ball break to MacBean but he dragged is 20-yard effort across goal and past the post.
Lewis and Harris again found the side-netting, this time twice in quick succession with raids down the left before Sam Campbell’s effort from the edge of the box was only a few inches over the bar at the other end on 10 minutes.
Aidan Stewart made his under-20s competitive debut in goal for Nairn and he excelled on 23 minutes to hold Andrew Murray’s powerful low drive after he managed to turn in the County box.
Nairn opened the scoring three minutes later. Seamus McConaghy’s clipped cross from deep on the right found Ryan MacBean unmarked in the penalty area 10 yards out at the far post. He pulled the ball down well before sending his shot arrowing into the bottom corner and beyond the reach of Lewis and Harris goalkeeper James Macleod.
Lewis and Harris levelled it eight minutes into the second half. James Morrison nicked the ball off Joe Cuthbert at the left edge of the box before skipping away from Cameron Maclean and curling a right-footed shot beyond the dive of Stewart.
Just a minute later, James Morrison was on hand to slam home Luke Mackay’s cutback after the Lewis and Harris wide man hit the by-line and was able to place the ball behind the two covering Nairn defenders and into the path of his on-rushing team mate.
County managed to re-group and substitute Logan Hallam produced a great near post save from Macleod just a minute after taking to the field after being teed up by McConaghy, with the Lewis and Harris goalkeeper beating the young striker’s angled drive from the right away for a corner.
Then, on 79 minutes, MacBean shot over from a tight angle on the right before Ian Payne’s through pass put Hallam racing in on goal from the right but he was again denied by Macleod, who stood up well at his near post to make the block.
It was rolls reversed on 82 minutes with Hallam playing in Payne but Macleod again made the save, this time diving to his right to keep his side in front.
And from his long kick out, Lewis and Harris put the tie to bed. The County defence allowed the ball to bounce with James Morrison latching on to it when it came down for a second time before despatching it beyond Stewart.
Then, on 85 minutes, James Morrison raced in to coolly slot home his fourth of the tie with Nairn pushing numbers forward as the Lewis and Harris attacker rounded off a memorable afternoon.
Lewis and Harris Select – Macleod, Campbell, Maclean (MacLennan 75), Smith, D. Mackay, Mackenzie, Shirkie, Murray, Smith, J. Morrison (Dunlop 90+1), L. Mackay (MacDonald 66). Subs unused: N. Morrison, Shields.
Nairn County – Stewart, Davidson, J. W. Maclean, Cameron Maclean, Wheeler, Cuthbert, Payne (Robertson 85), Campbell (Millard 84), MacBean, McConaghy, Geddes (Hallam 73). Sub unused: Wilkie (gk).
Referee – Gavin Dearie.