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Make or break in county league top flight

By Iain Grant

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Halkirk’s Paul Mackay wins an aerial duel with Acks defender Allan Munro. Acks went on to win 5-3 in the first-division tussle. Photo: www.jamesgunn.co.uk
Halkirk’s Paul Mackay wins an aerial duel with Acks defender Allan Munro. Acks went on to win 5-3 in the first-division tussle. Photo: www.jamesgunn.co.uk

IT’S crunch time for county division-one league sides next week as championship and demotion issues remain live going into the final round of matches.

That would change were relegation-haunted Acks to have got a result versus Pentland United in Thurso last night. A home win or draw would make Wick Groats champions for the second year in a row. Were the free-scoring Dunnet team to have secured its sixth straight league win, it would set up a showdown at Upper Bignold on Wednesday.

Acks and Swifts will meanwhile be scrapping to save their skins, with Halkirk, Castletown and John O’Groats not out of the woods in terms of avoiding the relegation

Both Wick Groats and Pentland United posted comfortable victories on Tuesday.

Groats got off to a flier at Castletown with Martin Sutherland setting up Alan Larnach for the first before Kyle Ross struck from the edge of the box after a free kick was only partially cleared.

An under-strength Castletown hit back when Scott Manson and Chris Sutherland paved the way for triallist Phil Makhouli to chip over Groats keeper Graeme Williamson.

Craig Ross restored the two-goal lead but Sutherland restored home spirits when he struck just before the interval.

A smartly taken double from Graeme MacNab tipped the scales firmly the visitors’ way with Derek Shearer finishing off a slick move at the death to make it 6-2.

Pentland United went three better at Thurso where they cruised home against a poor Swifts side.

Ross Allan did the damage early on, grabbing the opener before being brought down in the box to allow Michael Petrie to make it 2-0. Derek Manson set up Jamie MacKenzie for the third before Stevie Morris got one back after being played in by Liam Mackay.

Mackay briefly brightened the home camp with a cracker of a free kick after United’s Darryn Mackay had closed the first half with a fine angled strike. MacKenzie was allowed to turn in the box and make it 5-2 before James Murray made an immediate impact from the bench, scoring with his first touch.

Murray went on to finish off two sweeping moves before fellow sub Mark Nichol got in on the act with a late penalty after Allan was hauled down in the box.

Acks’ fight against the drop was fuelled by a super-charged second-half display which turned a 3-1 deficit at home to Halkirk into a 5-3 victory.

A solo effort from Jack Halliday had the home men in front early on but close-range finishes from Mark Munro and Paul Mackay handed the initiative to Neil Mackay’s troops. Halkirk were calling the shots and their superiority was further marked after Lee Elder seized on keeper Neal Clark’s clearance to net with an audacious 40-yard lob two minutes from the interval.

Acks went close several times before Murray Mackintosh struck with an angled free-kick which eluded friend and foe as it found the far corner of the net.

Mackintosh had a point-blank effort cleared off the line by Elder before Halliday equalised with a header.

The Thurso men were firmly in control with Tony Miller just off target with a chip before Logan Munro set up Mackintosh to put Acks 4-3 in front. Mackintosh struck a post before his side’s victory was confirmed with Halliday’s hat-trick goal at the death.

John O’Groats and Staxigoe United shared four goals on the village pitch.

John O’Groats dominated the first half in which they felt short-changed to lead by just one. Marc MacGregor scored just before the interval in between two strong penalty claims by the home outfit.

United levelled on the hour mark when Jimmy Budge finished off a swift break with a shot which went in off the bar. Parity lasted for two minutes when a corner was helped on for Martin Sinclair to net at the far post. Stevie Reid won the visitors a point when he nailed a free kick after Martin Banks was fouled on the edge of the box.

Results – Division one: Acks 5, Halkirk 3; Castletown 2, Wick Groats 6; John O’Groats 2, Staxigoe United 2; Swifts 2, Pentland United 9.

Division two: FSC 2, Ormlie Hotspurs 3; Keiss 4, Ormlie Hotspurs 1; Lybster 2, FSC 2; Lybster 4, Keiss 2; Rovers 0, Thurso Pentland 4; Top Joe’s 0, Thurso Pentland 7; Top Joe’s 4, Wick Thistle 1; Wick Thistle 5, Rovers 0.

Steven Cup first round: Thurso Pentland 6, Ormlie Hotspurs 1; Wick Thistle 3, Lybster 0.

Fixtures – Tonight (6.45pm): Steven Cup first round: Keiss v FSC.

Tuesday (6.45pm): Steven Cup semi-finals: Thurso Pentland v Wick Thistle; FSC or Keiss v Rovers or Top Joe’s.

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

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