WICK Groats and Pentland United each scored battling wins to maintain their unbeaten records at the top of the Caithness division one championship.
Groats served up their poorest display of the season while still managing to edge to victory at home to John O’Groats. The home team faded badly after a bright start with only some desperate defending and slack finishing maintaining their advantage.
The home side drew ahead after five minutes when Graham MacNab finished off a slick move. Groats showed little attacking flair thereafter with JOG’s Martin Sinclair unlucky to see a shot come back off the post a minute from half-time. JOG dominated the second period with their best chance falling to Liam Brims when he was played in by Martin Sinclair after a fumble from stand-in keeper Graham Miller. Brims had the goal at his mercy but sclaffed past.
Pentland United meanwhile had to make up a 2-0 interval advantage at home to Staxigoe United. United defender Derek Manson cleared off his line before watching his team’s striker, Lukas Gerazel, uncharacteristically pass up two snips at the other end.
The deadlock was broken 10 minutes from half-time when Ben Taylor’s deep cross caught out the home defence and John Budge headed over keeper Michael Gray. It got worse for the home troops when Jimmy Budge latched on to another steepling cross and rifled the ball into the net. A change to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation and the introduction on the hour mark of Marc Begg and Darryn Mackay helped turn around their fortunes.
Within a couple of minutes of coming on, Begg got one back and the game was soon all-square when Gerazel burst through and netted with the follow-up from his initial shot which was parried by Alan Bokas.
Staxigoe were struggling and they fell behind after Tony Miller’s corner arced over Bokas into the net. After Staxigoe’s Colin Sinclair was red-carded for dissent, Mackay’s injury-time tap-in made it 4-2.
Halkirk jumped above Staxigoe after completing a double over Castletown. Pher Nicolson put the home men in front with a cracking free-kick and then equalised from the penalty spot just before half-time after Russell Bain and Matthew Mackay scored for the Wildcats.
The tie was delicately poised when Stevie Campbell drove through before planting a firm left-foot shot past keeper Lee Kirk.
Acks secured three points after defeating Thistle in Wick. The Jags enjoyed a sprightly first half with Darren Sheppard, Greg Gunn and Mark Sheppard all going close. But there was a sting in the tail when the Thurso visitors scored with the final action before the break.
Good work from Kyle Innes created space for Jack Halliday to side-step a defender before rifling a shot past James Richard. Ryan Begg scored the second before the home side were left short-handed following Greg Gunn’s sending-off. Acks clinched victory with a Graham Bremner header before Begg netted from the spot after Gavin Sinclair levelled Murray Mackintosh in the box.
Thurso Pentland were the main winners in the promotion battle, racking up three wins while second division rivals Swifts and Lybster both leaked points.
Pentland made light of Keiss by taking a 7-0 win. First-half goals from Graham Scollay and Scott Bell put the visitors ahead and Keiss’s hopes sunk when they had a man sent off soon after the interval.
Pentland cashed in with Scollay scoring a second and Andy Richardson (2), Darren Mackay and Scott McLean getting the others.
Earlier, Ian Adamson’s men recovered from a dreadful first half to defeat Ormlie Hotspurs 5-1 at the Dammies. A strike from Ryan Cowie gave Ormlie an interval lead. But a double from Darren Mackay and a third from Michael Smith turned the tables with Darren Banks scoring a fourth before Andy Adamson set up Smith for his second of the evening.
Swifts meanwhile ended the 100 per cent record of Lybster with a 2-1 defeat of the villagers at the Dammies. Swifts took the lead within a couple of minutes of the turnaround through Chris Sutherland. That is the way it stood until a dramatic late finale. Lybster’s Chris Gunn was red-carded three minutes from time for upending Jamie MacKenzie in the penalty box. Willie Inrig nailed the spot-kick though Lybster got one back in the last minute thanks to a free-kick from Alan Larnach. Swifts scored late on to get a share of the spoils at home to a pepped-up Top Joe’s on Wednesday.
A Steven Lowe penalty had TJ’s in front at the interval and Justin Marshall doubled their lead soon after the turnaround. Back came Swifts with Chris Sutherland nailing a free-kick before Michael King headed the equaliser.
Player/manager Nigel MacKenzie’s dismissal for dissent made Swifts’ task more difficult and TJ’s seemed to have settled matters with defender James Swan’s diving headed goal on 89 minutes. But King had the final say with an injury-time header to make it 3-3.
Top Joe’s earlier scored their second successive win on the road when they returned from Wick with a 7-3 win over Rovers. A neat finish from Kevin Treasurer had them in front with Derek Campbell and Alex Banks scoring in between a Keith Foubister brace to put the visitors five up at the break.
Ian Smith and Treasurer, again, were on target before goals from Taylor Campbell and Garry Swanson salvaged some pride for the homesters.
Results – Division one: Castletown 2, Halkirk 3; Wick Groats 1, John O’Groats 0; Pentland United 4, Staxigoe United 2; Wick Thistle 0, Acks 4.
Division two: Keiss 0, Thurso Pentland 7; Rovers 3, Top Joe’s 7; Swifts 2, Lybster 1; Swifts 3, Top Joe’s 3; Thurso Pentland 5, Ormlie Hotspurs 1.
Fixtures – Tomorrow – Colin Macleod Cup final: Acks v Pentland United (Castletown 3pm). Over-35s: Castletown v Thurso/Wick (6pm). Monday (7.30pm) – Division two: Keiss v FSC; Ormlie Hotspurs v Top Joe’s; Rovers v Lybster; Swifts v Watten. Tuesday (7.30pm) – Division one: Acks v Castletown; Halkirk v Wick Groats; John O’Groats v Pentland United; Wick Thistle v Staxigoe United. Wednesday (7.30pm) – Division two: Thurso Pentland v Keiss. Thursday (7.30pm) – Division two: Lybster v Rovers; Top Joe’s v Ormlie Hotspurs.