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Groats win out in fraught clash

By SPP Reporter

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Swifts defender Stuart Gray and John O’Groats striker Grant Budge in a straight race for the ball.
Swifts defender Stuart Gray and John O’Groats striker Grant Budge in a straight race for the ball.

IT’S as you were at the top of Caithness County League division one after Wick Groats and Pentland United each chalked up two victories over the past week.

Groats’ recent struggles continued when they fought back from 2-0 behind to defeat Acks in a highly-fraught, top-versus-bottom joust at Upper Bignold.

The Thurso side started sprightly and were buoyed after taking the lead with a cracking free-kick strike from Tony Miller. Stand-in keeper Kenny Sinclair then got in a terrible fankle as he was dispossessed to gift Murray Mackintosh a second after 20 minutes.

Groats thereafter became increasingly frustrated as their constant pressure came to naught through a mix of poor finishing and some heroics from visiting keeper Gordon Clark.

Alan Larnach set up Graham MacNab to get one back early in the second half. The home side were then denied a penalty when Liam Bremner raced clear into the box and rounded Clark before being hauled down.

Groats equalised when Derek Shearer netted from a tight angle.That is the way it stood until five minutes from time when a flashpoint led to an outbreak of hostilities.

Incessant Groats pressure ended with Bremner’s downward header being blocked by Clark as several players closed in around him.

After awarding a goal, referee Michael Macphee was surrounded by Acks players insistent that the ball had not crossed the line. The raucous protest resulted in red cards for brothers Liam and Chris Wann.

After Groats held on for a 3-2 victory, manager David MacGregor and two other Acks officials each got the equivalent of a red card. There was a further incident in the ref’s changing room where Acks manager MacGregor was made the subject of a further report.

There was much less drama in Groats’ 3-0 win over Swifts on Wednesday.

A Stewart Ross goal separated the sides at the interval after the defender rose above everybody to net a Liam Bremner corner. Bremner doubled the lead with a close-range finish from Andrew Cumming’s cross.

The win was rounded off with a fizzing 25-yard strike from youngster Alan Hughes.

United made short work of Halkirk whom they defeated 7-1 at Ham Park.

Top scorer Mark Nichol, part of a three-pronged strikeforce, got in among the goals after his recent drought. United went ahead when James Murray nodded home Blair McIntosh’s cross.

A marvellous solo run from Michael Petrie set up Murray for his second before Nichol scored a screamer to make it 3-0.

After David Cowie played Derek Manson in to increase the advantage, Halkirk were gifted a goal when home keeper Michael Gray’s fumble let in Paul Mackay.

The chances continued to come thick and fast for United who went 5-1 up when Nichol’s thunderous shot came back off the bar and Grant Steven converted the rebound.

Halkirk’s Lee Allan pulled off several cracking saves but could not prevent further counters from Nichol and Lee Sutherland.

The Dunnet side on Wednesday were too strong for a Castletown side, missing three key personnel.

The match at Ham Park got off to a disastrous start for the visitors when Scott Manson turned a cross into his own net.

They competed well until conceding a second after Nichol scored from the spot after Derrick Shearer barged into the back of Murray.

Two second-half headers from Derek Manson and Ross Allan completed a routine 4-0 win for United.

Castletown’s Chis Sutherland earlier boosted his goals tally to 15 in five games with another hat-trick in his side’s 4-2 win over Staxigoe United.

The home side had to come from behind after Stevie Reid profited on a mix-up between defenders Stuart Florence and Greg Macleod.

After Gavin Henderson went close with a free kick, Florence levelled when the United defence got in a tangle.

Staxigoe recovered to claim the half-time advantage after Colin Sinclair’s free kick wrong-footed keeper Stuart MacCulloch.

Castletown were soon on terms again after a Henderson free kick ended with Sutherland stabbing home from two yards.

Sutherland was again on hand on the hour-mark to convert after Martyn Cook’s 20 yarder pinged back off a post.

Late on, Sutherland grabbed his third with a first-time finish after Manson and Florence did the spadework.

John O’Groats have had a roller-coaster week, following up a 7-1 rout of Swifts at the Dammies by losing out by the odd goal in seven on their park to Halkirk.

Swifts’ recent mini-revival came to a crashing halt as they caved in after a promising first-half versus John O’Groats.

Marc MacGregor struck three times for the visitors who led just 2-1 at the interval. Grant Budge, Martin Sinclair, Nathan Mackay and Stuart Sinclair the elder also found the target, with Stevie Morris getting Swifts’ solitary counter.

John O’Groats went on to pay dearly for a crazy 10-minute spell in the first half when they shipped three goals to trail 3-0 to a revitalised Halkirk.

Gavin Sutherland fired the visitors ahead before Lee Elder created a tap-in for Paul Mackay.

Elder then weighed in with a sweet 20-yard strike before John O’Groats got one back before the turnaround when Euan Jappy’s raking shot was parried by keeper Lee Elder and MacGregor pounced to score.

A cracker by Grant Budge from MacGregor’s lay-off made it 3-2 as Halkirk were pushed firmly on the back foot.

The momentum seemed to have firmly swung the home side’s way on the hour-mark when Sinclair scored from the aftermath to a free kick.

But the winner was claimed by the visitors when Russell Bain was balked in the box and Stevie Elder slotted home the spot-kick

Staxigoe United reclaimed third spot after they survived a torrid first half at home to Acks to end up 4-2 victors.

The Thurso men dominated early on and led 2-1 at the interval. United’s goals came from Martin Banks, Alan Sinclair, John Budge and Peter Niwa. Results – MacLeod IFA Highland Amateur Cup semi-final: Back 3, Wick Groats 3 (aet Back won 6-5 on pens). David Allan Shield semi-finals: Castletown 0, Pentland United 1; Rovers 1, Wick Groats 4.

Division one: Castletown 4, Staxigoe United 2; John O’Groats 3, Halkirk 4; Pentland United 4, Castletown 0; Staxigoe United 4, Acks 2; Swifts 1, John O’Groats 7; Pentland United 7, Halkirk 1; Wick Groats 3, Acks 2; Wick Groats 3, Swifts 0.

Fixtures – tonight (7.15), division two: Thistle v Rovers.

Monday (7pm), division one: Acks v Halkirk. Division two: Keiss v Ormlie Hotspurs; Lybster v FSC; Rovers v Thurso Pentland; Top Joe’s v Wick Thistle.

Tuesday (7pm), division one: Castletown v Wick Groats; John O’Groats v Staxigoe United; Swifts v Pentland United.

Wednesday (6.45pm), Steven Cup first round: Thurso Pentland v Ormlie Hotspurs; Wick Thistle v Lybster.

Thursday (7pm), division one: Acks v Pentland United. Steven Cup first round (6.45pm): Rovers v Top Joe’s.

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