Late strike by Martens sends Halkirk United through to semi-finals
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Halkirk United have a semi-final to look forward to later in the season after edging out Inverness Athletic in Saturday's North Caledonian Cup clash at Morrison Park.
A stoppage-time strike by Jonah Martens sealed a 3-2 victory for the Anglers, who will face either St Duthus, Invergordon or Fort William in the last four.
Manager Ewan McElroy said: "We were really pleased to get the win. In cup competitions it's all about making it through to the next round.
"It was certainly not the best football we have played this season, but at the same time it was only the third game this year after weather interruptions and for some of the squad it was actually their first game of 2024.
"Although the boys have trained really well as a group over the last few weeks, there is no substitute for getting matches under your belt and we are all delighted to be in the semi-finals of the North Caledonian Cup.
"We were excellent for the first 20 to 25 minutes. We kept the ball well in difficult conditions and looked really comfortable.
"However, both goals conceded could and should have been avoided. We struggled to get into any real rhythm in the second half but we continued to work hard and we were delighted to get the win with some relentless work from Mark Munro and a really clinical finish from Jonah Martens late on.
"Invergordon play St Duthus and then the winners go on to play Fort William before meeting us in the next round."
Martens put the Anglers in front in the second minute and Andy Mackay – who scored both goals in the 2-0 league win against Athletic last month – doubled their lead with 14 minutes gone.
Ryan Macleod reduced the deficit just after the half-hour mark and Athletic got themselves level through Luke Mackay with five minutes of the 90 remaining. Martens had the final say, though, with his second of the afternoon.
Halkirk United manager Ewan McElroy has warned that Fort William are a threat to any team in the North Caledonian League ahead of the Lochaber side's visit to Morrison Park this weekend.
Fort moved up to third in the table after their 7-0 victory over Thurso at Claggan Park, with the Anglers – who have played only two league fixtures in the past two months – dropping to fifth.
Speaking after Saturday's 3-2 home victory over Inverness Athletic in the North Caledonian Cup, McElroy said: "Fort William have a strong squad. They have added a couple of boys and will obviously be in confident mood after beating Thurso on Saturday.
"They try to get the ball down and play direct football. They have a couple of really quick, direct forwards and they are a threat to anyone they come up against.
"I think they have been a little unfortunate with injuries this year but they seem to have a more settled squad and I have no doubt will be travelling up strong and looking for the three points. Hopefully the weather improves and we manage to get the game on."
Thurso take a break from league action this weekend as they travel to Dingwall for a North Caledonian Cup first-round tie against Clachnacuddin "A".
The Vikings go into the match at the Highland Football Academy looking to bounce back from a 7-0 league defeat to Fort William at Claggan Park on Saturday. Fort's goals came from Finlay MacDonald, Andrew Sneddon, Lewis Moran, Lerlah Hay, Davie Neil, Ross Peters and Martin Munro.
Clach beat Thurso 1-0 at Inverness Royal Academy last month, having drawn 3-3 at the Dammies in November.
Thurso's scheduled match at Golspie on Wednesday night was called off because of snow.
It has been a disappointing league campaign for the Vikings but manager Scott Davidson has made it clear he wants a run in the cup.
League leaders Invergordon won 3-0 at home to Bonar Bridge on Saturday. Ryan McFee set them on their way with a first-half penalty, with James Ross and Callum Murray on the scoresheet after the break.
Golspie recorded a seventh win in a row as goals from Graham MacNab and Steven Sutherland gave them a 2-0 victory over Clachnacuddin "A" at Inverness Royal Academy.
North Caledonian League results: Clachnacuddin "A" 0, Golspie Sutherland 2; Fort William 7, Thurso 0; Invergordon 3, Bonar Bridge 0. North Caledonian Cup, quarter-final: Halkirk United 3, Inverness Athletic 2.
Fixtures for Saturday, February 10 – North Caledonian League: Alness United v Orkney; Loch Ness v Inverness Athletic; Halkirk United v Fort William (1pm).
North Caledonian Cup, first round: Clachnacuddin "A" v Thurso (12.00, Highland Football Academy, Dingwall); Golspie Sutherland v Bonar Bridge; St Duthus v Invergordon.