Confidence is growing as Halkirk United prepare for cup clash at Tain
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Confidence is growing at Halkirk United after a positive start to the season that has propelled the Anglers to top spot in the North Caledonian League after their opening three games.
Ewan McElroy's side maintained their unbeaten run with a 5-2 thumping of Nairn County "A" at Morrison Park last Saturday and the manager called it "a real squad effort".
They now turn their attention to the Football Times Cup with a first-round tie away to St Duthus – just two weeks after the teams fought out a 4-4 draw at Tain in the league.
Former Wick Academy goalkeeper Gordon Clark made his Halkirk debut at the weekend.
"Again, it was a real squad effort and I thought everyone played their part," McElroy said. "We had Gordon Clark playing his first game and, considering he has not played a huge amount of football, I thought he did well.
"Similarly, we drafted Stewart and Kyle Ross for the game and both boys were excellent. To be fair I have been hassling the pair of them for a number of weeks now.
"For me Kyle is one of the most underrated players in the county and, despite upping our average age considerably, I thought Stewart added some calm and experience to the squad.
"I think the confidence in the group has steadily been building for a while now. The boys know what we want to achieve and know that we put the emphasis on their overall attitude during both training and games.
"We have only added a few new boys to the group as we felt we already had a very competitive squad at a good age.
"I don’t really expect to have a settled squad until the end of the month. Even then, the way things are with Covid at the minute I am not sure if we will ever have a full squad to choose from any time soon."
Aidan Reid's header gave Halkirk an early lead. Ciaran Young equalised from the penalty spot but Stewart Atkins soon had the Anglers in front again with a shot from outside the box that the keeper failed to gather.
Rory Williamson hit back for Nairn at the start of the second half but within a minute Jonah Martens got a third for Halkirk from the penalty spot before Bryan Reid extended their lead, netting at the back post following a corner.
Sam Barclay completed the scoring when slotted the ball home from close range after good work by Martens down the left.
Martens is the league's top scorer with four goals so far.
Looking ahead to this weekend's cup tie, McElroy said: "It’s going to be another really difficult game. Again, we have some boys missing for one reason or another but we have a healthy, competitive squad and I always see it as an opportunity for others to stake a claim.
"St Duthus are always different opposition on their home patch and I fully expect a really difficult game. It’s a cup game and all the boys are looking forward to it, that’s for certain."