MacNab clinches Highland glory for Groats before final's scheduled start
Graham MacNab's strike five minutes before the scheduled kick-off time was enough to seal Highland Amateur Cup glory – and a grand slam to boot – for Wick Groats.
MacNab netted before the clock had struck three and it proved enough to earn a 1-0 victory over Avoch in Saturday's final at Brora.
It appears both teams, no doubt with pre-match nerves and adrenaline flying, were very keen to get proceedings under way as soon as possible.
Traffic from Caithness was slow with tractors and campervans causing tailbacks, which meant spectators were still coming through the turnstiles midway through the first half.
For those who had managed to get there bang on 3pm, there was disappointment that they had missed what turned out to be the game's decisive moment.
Bob Gunn, secretary of the Highland Amateur Cup executive committee, expressed his full sympathy with those fans who thought they had arrived in time for the advertised kick-off and admitted he was as surprised as them by the early start.
He said: "We had, like we've done in previous years, a pre-match ceremony where a piper would lead both teams out, the teams would be presented to the dignitaries and pre-match photographs would be taken.
"That was due to start at 2.50pm to give them five minutes to have a pre-match warm-up before the scheduled 3pm kick-off.
"However, once the last of the photos were taken, the two teams immediately lined up for kick-off instead of doing the warm-up and so the referee got the game under way. He can't just say to them, 'guys, do a warm-up'.
"In hindsight, given a number of spectators turned up in good faith expecting the game to start at 3pm instead of 2.55pm, which caused them to miss the only goal, we should have made the teams wait until the scheduled time.
"It's a lesson learned. If the pre-match stuff takes a while and ends up with the game starting at 3.05pm then so be it.
"I took full responsibility at the time when spectators approached me about this during the game and I still take it now."
The goal came about about when Sandy Sutherland's shot from outside the box was saved by Avoch keeper Grant Beattie only for the ball to fall to MacNab, who duly tapped in the rebound.
Groats nearly extended their lead when Ryan Campbell whipped in an inviting cross with Sutherland unlucky to see his glancing header go narrowly wide.
Despite having most of the possession in the first half, Groats survived a scare five minutes before half-time when keeper Graeme Williamson flapped at a cross. The defence could only clear the ball to Avoch's Scott Houston who inexplicably sliced his shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
The second half still saw Groats in control with Beattie in the opposing goal denying Mark Macadie and then thwarting Ben Sinclair with a brilliant point-blank stop from six yards out.
They had a massive let-off just past the hour when Avoch's Struan McArthur blew a gift-wrapped opportunity as he skewed his free header from three yards well wide of the post.
It would be Avoch's only chance of equalising as they had Beattie to thank for ensuring Groats did not win by a more convincing margin with fine saves from Campbell and Sutherland.
A fine season for Groats resulting in a remarkable grand slam was cheered to the rafters by their travelling support – even if many of them missed the moment that clinched it.
Wick Groats: Williamson, G Sinclair, S Stewart, Sinclair, Budge, K Ross, Campbell, B Sinclair, Sutherland (Farquhar 90), MacNab (S Ross 89), Macadie. Subs not used: Risbridger, McKiddie, Miller.
Avoch: Beattie, MacAllister, McArthur, Houston, Stewart, Mackay, Stuart (Shewan 60), N MacDonald (MacGruer 70), Kerr, Penwright, Maclean. Subs not used: M MacDonald, Urquhart.
Referee: Liam Bremner.