RUNNING a half marathon paid off big time for John O’Groats as their superior fitness drove them over the line against Staxigoe United.
Their Eain MacIntosh Cup quarter-final against United went the distance as they booked their place in the last four with a dramatic 2-1 win after extra time.
Kevin Swanson’s half-volley had put Groats 1-0 after 50 minutes and it looked like that would be the deciding strike until, two minutes from the end, Colin Sinclair netted an equaliser for Staxigoe.
However, Groats refused to be disheartened and bounced back in extra time with Jimmy Budge smashing home the winner.
Boss Grant Budge put it all down to some unorthodox pre-season training.
He said: “We had a bit of an issue with fitness last season so we decided to address that before the current campaign started.
“Some of the boys trained for and competed in the Inverness Half Marathon so that helped them get ready for our season.
“None of them won it, but the run itself and the preparation for it did them some good – there were fewer bellies present at our first training session of the year.
“And that came into play for this game. I had no worries about playing extra time because I knew the boys were fit enough to go another 30 minutes, and it showed.”
Staxigoe boss Andrew Banks admitted his side were made to rue a lot of missed chances.
“We actually played quite well but chances that we would normally stick away just did not go in,” he said. “Then they scored but Colin took his header well to level. However, we then paid for some poor defending.”
John O’Groats will travel to Acks for the semis after the latter demolished town rivals Thurso Pentland 4-1.
Pentland took the lead through Steven Grant only for Acks to hit back with three of their own before half-time through Louis Webster (2) and Garry MacLeod.
Kuba Koziol’s spot-kick in the second half completed the scoring.
Acks boss Murray Coghill said: “We moved the ball very well. Despite going 1-0 down so early, we continued to play our own game and got our reward.
“The scoreline looks convincing but at 3-1 our keeper Adam Sutherland had a few saves to make which made sure we kept Pentland at arm’s length.”
Wick Groats face a trip to High Ormlie Hotspur in the other semi-final after they demolished Swifts 6-1 in what manager Kevin Anderson described as their “best performance of the season so far”.
Sandy Sutherland hit a hat-trick, Alan Hughes weighed in with a brace and Kyle Ross was also on target for Groats. Swifts’ consolation came from Craig Ross.
Anderson said: “That was as good as we have played all season. We’ve been looking for a first to 90th-minute performance this year and we finally got one.
“We’ve got High Ormlie Hotspur next, and although we may be favourites as we’re in the higher division, I’ve seen them twice this season and they are very dangerous.
“We will need to earn the right to victory if we are to get through.”
High Ormlie Hotspur made the last four after a thrilling 3-2 win at FC Retro. Mark Nicolson and Tony Miller scored for Retro only for Hotspur to hit back through Lee Sutherland, Marc Keith and Ryan Sutherland – the latter grabbing an 87th-minute winner.
FC Retro’s Alan Steven lamented: “We are bitterly disappointed. It was a great game of football that could have gone either way, but we had chances of our own that we could have taken before their late winner.”