Heartbreak as Groats exit contest on penalties
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DEFEAT in a sudden-death penalty shoot-out condemned Wick Groats to a third successive exit from the MacLeod IFA Highland Cup.
The nerve-tingling finale came after Groats twice led in their semi-final against Back in a six-goal thriller in Culbokie on Saturday.
After a handful of crucial decisions went against them, they looked bound for the final thanks to Andy Cumming’s headed finish in the first period of extra time.
But a desperate late blitz saw the Lewis side equalise after a looping header from a long throw-in beat stand-in keeper Cameron MacConnachie.
Groats had earlier responded well to conceding an early goal to Fraser Macleod. Gary MacGregor levelled with a cool side-foot finish. They then went ahead after a sweeping move climaxed with Alan Larnach and Kyle Ross combining before Grant MacNab applied the finish.
The equaliser was a disaster for Orkney-based MacConnachie, deputising for Graeme Williamson, who was ruled out with a dislocated finger.
In trying to divert Murdo MacLennan’s shot over the bar, MacConnachie contrived to palm the ball into the roof of his net. Back went on to enjoy a long spell of pressure during which MacConnachie pulled off several very good saves.
The Lewis men then had a let-off when their keeper floored MacNab just outside the box after the striker had dribbled past him and would have had an angled shot at goal. The referee chose only to caution the keeper when a red card looked certain.
Groats continued to press and were further aggrieved to have several penalty appeals turned down before the end of normal time.
After Cumming headed in Larnach’s pinpoint cross at the back post on 95 minutes, it looked like the Caithness men would prevail.
They did ride their luck on several occasions but that ran out with Martin MacLean’s last-ditch leveller.
James Mackay then had his kick saved before his Back counterpart blasted his against the crossbar. Derek Shearer converted to put his side 5-4 up.
But Back’s next two counted in between their keeper denying MacNab.
The defeat followed Groats’ exits at the hands of Kirkwall Thorfinn – on penalties in the semi-final in Thurso two years ago and after conceding a last-minute extra-time goal on the island last year.
A desperately disappointed Stewart Ross said: “I thought we paid for not doing enough in the first half.
“They were there for the taking and I thought we played really well then. We were regularly getting in behind but we just didn’t get the luck in front of goals. They came back strongly but I thought we were very unlucky not to win.”
Ross added: “I really thought this was our year to win the cup but it was not to be.”
Avoch beat Carloway 3-1 in the other semi to set up a rerun of the other 2005 final, which Back won 2-1.