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Caithness league set for final clash

By Iain Grant

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Fresh life breathed into contest after Pentland United gain victory over Wick Groats.
Fresh life breathed into contest after Pentland United gain victory over Wick Groats.

FRESH life has been breathed into the Caithness County League division one championship race after Wick Groats lost out to their only other realistic contenders, Pentland United.

The frontrunners slumped to a 3-1 defeat in Dunnet to wreck their 100 per cent record in their title defence. The smart money is now on the battle between the duo going all the way to the return joust on the final night of the league season.

An undistinguished, tetchy opening 30 minutes at Ham Park sparked into life with a goal at either end.

Groats took the lead when Graham MacNab’s corner was touched on by Alan Larnach for Grant MacNab to flick the ball past keeper Michael Gray.

Four minutes later, United levelled when Jamie MacKenzie’s stab across goal wrong-footed keeper Graeme Williamson to go in to the far corner of the net.

United were clearly the better side after the break with Darryn Mackay inches away from connecting from Ross Allan’s centre.

They went ahead when James Murray’s under-hit shot struck a post and MacKenzie pounced for his second.

Williamson pulled off a spectacular save to deny Murray before Andrew Macleod made a hash of a decent opening at the other end.

United sealed victory six minutes from time when MacKenzie’s lay-off was lashed home by Murray

In the other first-division match, Acks and John O’Groats shared the spoils with a 1-1 draw at the Dammies.

Grant Budge’s opener for the visitors was cancelled out by Liam Wann’s second-half strike.

Wick Thistle are on the cusp of clinching the second-division title after completing a back-to-back double over main rival Thurso Pentland.

The Jags’ 1-0 win in Thurso on Wednesday leaves them with the task of gathering two points from their last two matches to make sure of claiming the only automatic promotion spot.

Pentland were made to rue failing to convert several early excellent chances.

James McLean snatched a shot over while Michael Smith was thwarted by James Richard’s full-stretch tip past after a shot had rattled back off the bar. Good efforts from Bobby Gunn and Brian Reid were blocked by Reid Anderson at the other end in the well-matched contest.

The clincher came seven minutes from time with a switcher of a 25 yarder from Marc Gunn which took a slight deflection before lodging high in the far corner of the net.

In the earlier match, Pentland took the lead on the hour mark after Gordie Reid floored Smith as he homed in on goal.

Reid was relieved not to see red before Darren Mackay stepped up to bury the spot-kick.

Five minutes later, Jordan Howden’s spadework down the right flank opened the way for Owen Harrold’s leveller.

With 15 minutes left, Harrold grabbed the winner with an eight-yard shot which keeper Connor Jackson got a hand to but could not prevent going in.

Keiss got home by the odd goal in nine at home to Francis Street Club.

Stewart Crowe and Michael Mackay each grabbed doubles for FSC who led three times.

Colin Mackenzie, Richard Donn and Calum Campbell replied for Keiss, with Eddie MacGregor’s second with less than 10 minutes left clinching victory.

Lybster moved above Ormlie Hotspurs after Nathan Lightley struck all three in his side’s 3-2 away victory over Spurs .

Rovers scored their second win in three days over Top Joe’s in Wick.

Chris Williamson’s meaty strike from distance gave TJ’s the half-time advantage.

But Eddie Beattie levelled 10 minutes later after his shot trickled in off a post and Liam Sutherland popped up with the winner.

Results – Division one: Acks 1, John O’Groats 1; Pentland United 3 Wick Groats 1. Division two: Keiss 5, FSC 4; Ormlie Hotspurs 2, Lybster 3; Rovers 2, Top Joe’s 1; Thurso Pentland 0, Wick Thistle 1; Wick Thistle 2, Thurso Pentland 1.

David Allan Shield, second round: Castletown 5, Swifts 2; Halkirk 1, Pentland United 2; Rovers 2, Top Joe’s 0; Wick Groats 4, John O’Groats 1.

Fixtures – Tomorrow, MacLeod IFA Highland Amateur Cup semi-finals: Avoch v Carloway (at Ullapool, 12pm); Back v Wick Groats (at Culbokie, 12.30pm).

Monday: David Allan Shield semi-finals (7pm): Castletown v Pentland United; Rovers v Wick Groats.

Wednesday: Division one (7.15pm), Halkirk v John O’Groats; Pentland United v Castletown; Staxigoe United v Acks, Wick Groats v Swifts.

Thursday: Division two (7.15pm), FSC v Ormlie Hotspurs; Lybster v Keiss; Top Joe’s v Thurso Pentland.

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