“STRANGE” was how Nairn County manager Ronnie Sharp described an eventful afternoon at Christie Park as Glenn Main’s injury time penalty earned the visitors a 3-2 win over Huntly.
The home side ended the game with eight men having lost their discipline with three players all dismissed for comments or gestures made to referee Alex Shepherd.
Gary McGowan was first to walk having been booked five minutes before half-time for a tackle on Jack Maclean and then seeing a second yellow immediately after for disputing the decision.
Michael Clark headed the hosts in front just before the interval but then inexplicably gestured at the officials in his goal celebration to receive his marching orders and leave his team mates down to nine men.
That meant the second half resembled an attack v defence training session with no Huntly player venturing into the County half of the pitch.
The visitors eventually broke them down with Dylan Mackenzie equalising on 62 minutes before substitute Max Ewan turned the ball home after Ewen Urquhart struck a post.
That looked like it would be it for the hosts but Jordan MacRae missed a penalty for Nairn in the final 10 minutes and then Huntly equalised in the final minute with Matthew McDonald beating goalkeeper Dylan Maclean to a bouncing ball 30 yards from goal before stroking home to spark wild celebrations.
But County refused to give up and Shepherd pointed to the spot again a minute later after Tom Andrews stuck out an arm in the penalty area to control a Nairn throw-in.
There was a lengthy delay before the spot kick was taken with Huntly adding to their rap sheet thanks to McDonald being dismissed for arguing the decision before County skipper Glenn Main showed nerves of steel to smash the ball home from 12 yards to earn all three points.
Sharp said: “It was a strange game. I did not think we played that poorly but we lacked cutting edge in the first half. We had the chances to be ahead in the first half but we then lost a goal right on half time when they were down to 10 men.
“We picked ourselves up and controlled all of the second half. We had to be patient and got the equaliser before going 2-1 up through Max Ewan.
“The first goal was a good block by Dylan, as he blocked a clearance and we got a bit of luck with the ball ending up in the net. Max was then on hand to score after a good header from Ewen Urquhart and from then, we should have been out of sight but Jordan missed a penalty and we passed up other chances.
“It was a total mix-up between the goalkeeper and the defence which allowed them to make it 2-2 and I thought that was that. But we kept going until the last minute and I thought it was a definite penalty for the hand ball. Our captain Glenn Main stepped up and took the responsibility to put it away.”
Huntly’s goal before the interval gave them something to hang on to with 10 men and Charlie Charlesworth’s men defended superbly, with goalkeeper John Farquhar, in particular, excelling.
“We wanted to stretch them in the second half by placing players out on each touchline to make them work as hard as we could,” revealed Sharp. “We wanted to go from side-to-side and get quality in the box, which would hopefully lead to them tiring and allow us to get some goals.
“Last season’s match was a strange game down here (6-4 win) and we are here again and it is the same. But we will take it.”
Huntly’s defensive heroics in the second half kept them in the game and although they had conceded two goals to trail 2-1, it meant that they only needed one goal to bring themselves back on level terms despite failing to register any shots on goal until the final few minutes of the half.
And when one of those chances came along, McDonald tucked it away to seemingly scramble a share of the spoils for the Black and Golds.
Sharp said: “We went down to nine men at Deveronvale ourselves in the cup last year and won the game. We did the same as Huntly as we sat in and tried to counter, although we probably have a bit more pace in our team than Huntly. It is frustrating to play against and we now have experience of both sides of it.”
Huntly’s last-minute goal came through a mistake at the back from the visitors and fortunately turned out to not be a deciding factor in the outcome.
Sharp said: “Our goalkeeper came off his line when he should have stayed and let Callum (Maclean) deal with it. Callum was under pressure but the communication was all wrong and when they scored, I thought to myself we had thrown the win away.
“We went straight back up the park from the kick-off though and worked the ball wide again. That allowed us to get it into the box and we won the penalty after a blatant handball.”
Main rifled the ball home from 12 yards to net his first goal of the season and he will rarely have found himself in a more pressurised situation throughout his long and distinguished County career.
“As soon as the penalty was given, I saw Glenn marching forward to take it,” stated Sharp. “He took the responsibility and in those circumstances, you need strong players to do that. We needed that from him and he stepped forward and delivered.”