Confidence growing as Wick Academy record back-to-back wins in Highland League
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Manager Gary Manson praised his Wick Academy players for producing their most complete performance of the season so far in Saturday's 2-0 home victory over Forres Mechanics.
It was the Scorries' first clean sheet this term as they achieved back-to-back Highland League victories for the first time since January 2020.
Ryan Campbell scored both goals from close range after the break as Academy maintained the momentum from their 4-3 win at Huntly. Jack Halliday had a penalty saved midway through the first half but the Scorries kept their focus as they collected three more points and moved up to 12th in the table.
“That was extremely comfortable,” Manson said. “In the first half we had them camped in their own half. We didn't create as many chances as I would have liked, but it was because they were defending so deep.
“We had all of the possession and we were looking composed. That's as complete a performance as we've put together this season, both with the ball and without the ball.
“I thought we defended our box particularly well. I challenged them before the game to make sure they did it, because that has been letting us down this season, but every single one of them was at least a seven or eight out of 10 today.
“If we were a little more clinical and a little more careful with our final passes we could have had an extra two or three goals quite easily in that game.
“But we'll take the 2-0 and we're quite happy with that.
“Football is all about confidence, and wins breed confidence. So as soon as you start getting one you'll get two and it will hopefully snowball on.
“In the first half we were passing the ball about for fun. We were keeping it really well.
“That has come from the confidence that last week [at Huntly] brought, and hopefully this raises confidence levels even further and we go on and do the same again next week.”
Academy are beginning to feel the benefit of increased squad numbers. Manson was able to call upon Danny Mackay and Sean Campbell from the bench, while Mark Munro, on loan from Ross County, made his second appearance as a substitute.
“We are starting to get a really strong squad back because too often this season we've been relying on the under-18s and that's all we've had,” the manager said.
“To look behind you and see the options that I had today was a lot more what I wanted it to be when I first came in.”
Harmsworth Park passed a morning inspection after Friday's gales and wintry showers and the pitch again held up well, showing the benefit from the major improvements carried out during the summer..
Academy were awarded a penalty midway through the first half when Davie Allan was brought down as he raced through on goal. Lee Herbert, playing his first game for Forres since joining on loan from Buckie Thistle, flung himself to his right to keep out Jack Halliday's effort.
Ryan Campbell's two goals both stemmed from inswinging corners taken by Ross Allan on the right.
The opener came in the 53rd minute when Campbell fired the ball into the net as Forres were unable to clear their lines.
Campbell bundled home his second of the afternoon 10 minutes later.
Graeme Williamson produced a couple of excellent reflex saves to protect Academy's two-goal advantage, while at the other end Herbert dived to keep out a net-bound shot from Gordon MacNab as Wick chased a third.
It was an unhappy return to Harmsworth Park for ex-Academy boss Gordon Connelly, who has experienced three defeats with no goals scored and 16 conceded since taking on the Forres job for a second time.
“It was a disappointing result, but I've got to take the positives out of it," Connelly said. "We've come up here with a really depleted squad and the lads have given everything at the end of the day. That's all you can ask.
“Hopefully in time they'll start to believe in themselves and we'll get a couple of breaks in front of goal.”
“Fair play to Lee, he had a great save from the penalty, and in fairness Williamson had a couple of cracking saves too.
“I can't fault their effort. We just lack a wee bit of quality in front of goal at the moment.”
Connelly admitted Forres face a “massive” rebuilding job. “It's going to be a hard four or five months,” he said.
“Gary has taken a bit of time to get things right here because he's had a rebuild too. He's lost a lot of players, similar to myself. It doesn't happen overnight.
“We've got a big game on Saturday in the Highland League Cup [at home to Clachnacuddin]. Hopefully we can compete, and if we're good enough to get a result it keeps the season going and gives us something to look forward to.”
Wick Academy's victory over Forres was one of five Highland League games to beat the stormy weather at the weekend.
Keith ended a five-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory at Nairn, with Scott Gray scoring twice for the Maroons.
Buckie Thistle moved up to second after a 5-0 victory at Lossiemouth. Sam Urquhart (2), Jack Murray, Kyle MacLeod and Mark McLauchlan got the goals at Grant Park.
Doubles by Jordan MacRae and Matthew Wright helped Brora Rangers to a 4-0 win at home to Deveronvale. The Cattachs are now fourth in the table.
In the day's early kick-off, Clach and Inverurie Locos fought out a goalless draw.
The Highland League Cup tie between Brechin City and Brora Rangers, scheduled for Saturday, has been put off because of Brechin's Scottish Cup replay against Darvel.
It had been hoped to play the previously postponed match between Strathspey Thistle and Huntly this weekend but pitch conditions and the weather outlook make that unlikely. As a result, Brora Rangers will play a rearranged league fixture against Huntly on Saturday at Dudgeon Park.
Keith's match against Fort William on Saturday will kick off at 1pm because of storm damage to the Kynoch Park floodlights.
Academy are at home to Formartine United in the day's other league game.
Fixtures for Saturday – Highland League: Brora Rangers v Huntly; Fort William v Keith; Wick Academy v Formartine United.
Highland League Cup quarter-finals: Buckie Thistle v Inverurie Locos; Forres Mechanics v Clachnacuddin; Rothes v Fraserburgh.