Shoot-out hero Sinclair hopes Thurso can start moving up league after cup final triumph
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Shoot-out hero Asa Sinclair hopes Thurso can build on their Football Times Cup triumph at the weekend by putting together a good run of results in the North Caledonian League and pushing further up the table.
The 33-year-old keeper saved two of Halkirk United's spot-kicks as the Vikings prevailed 3-2 on penalties after the final ended 2-2 at 90 minutes.
Thurso led twice in the game at Wick's Harmsworth Park, only to be pegged back on each occasion, but Sinclair's heroics secured the first silverware of the North Caley season.
Thurso played most of the match with 10 men after Conor Trueman was sent off on the half-hour mark for a second bookable offence.
After receiving his man-of-the-match award, Sinclair revealed that he had drawn confidence from his exploits in a North Caledonian Cup first-round victory over Alness United in November 2020.
“We had a penalty shoot-out last year against Alness, and I saved two out of three of those penalties, so I was quite confident going into it that I could save a couple," said Sinclair, who made his debut for the club as a 17-year-old in 2005/06.
“I know the Halkirk keeper [Kieran Macleod] is a good shot-stopper so I thought he had a fair chance of saving one or two as well.
“The game was a bit of a rollercoaster. After that positive result I hope we can start picking up wins in the league and give a good account of ourselves for the rest of the season."
Thurso's success on Saturday meant their new manager Michael Bremner picked up a trophy in only his second game in charge, having been appointed after previous boss Stevie Reid resigned earlier this month.
Bremner paid tribute to his team for the character they showed after Trueman's dismissal, and the manager was also keen to give credit to Reid for guiding the Vikings to the final.
“I'm absolutely delighted that we dug in so well after going down to 10 men after half an hour,” Bremner said.
He acknowledged that cramp was taking its toll on some of his players by full-time.
“I didn't know if I was going to get five of them to take penalties,” he said. “Asa pulled us through it with two saves.”
Halkirk were first to threaten after five minutes when Kyle Henderson cut in from the right and unleashed a left-foot shot that was punched over by Sinclair.
At the other end, Cameron Montgomery wriggled free of a defender and curled a right-foot shot beyond the postage-stamp corner.
Harmsworth Park had stood up well to prolonged rain on Friday and overnight but conditions were becoming tricky as squally showers blew across the pitch.
Thurso took the lead on 15 minutes when Montgomery seized on a loose ball, advanced towards the edge of the penalty area and placed a low shot beyond the diving Macleod.
Halkirk began to threaten and Hasheem Bremner played a great ball down the line to Henderson, whose cross brought an ambitious overhead kick from Korbyn Cameron that ended up well off target.
With Thurso adjusting to Trueman's dismissal, Halkirk got themselves level on 38 minutes after a swift counter-attack.
Macleod needed two attempts at holding a free kick by Thurso's Ben Sinclair but within seconds the ball was in the net at the other end. The Anglers broke down the left and Cameron's delivery was calmly side-footed in by Henderson.
Thurso restored their lead after 64 minutes when a free kick by Montgomery was headed down by James McLean and Halkirk's John Budge diverted the ball into his own net. There was little the defender could do as he had no time to react and could only watch as the ball crept in.
It was all square again six minutes later when Andy Mackay's corner from the right squirmed through a crowded six-yard box and ended up in the net.
James Mackintosh directed a header towards the top corner only for it to be clutched by Sinclair.
Grant MacNab was looking increasingly dangerous for Halkirk and he came close with a series of chances. MacNab looked certain to score when he rose to meet Henderson's deep cross at the back post but his header drifted across the face of goal and past the other upright.
The first four penalties were tucked away by Thurso's Marc Macgregor and Connor Macintosh and Halkirk's Andy Mackay and Aiden Reid.
Rob McLean handed the advantage to the Anglers when he put Thurso's third spot-kick wide, but Kyle Henderson's effort was then saved by Sinclair.
James McLean made no mistake to put Thurso 3-2 up and the outcome was in their hands when Sinclair kept out Bryan Reid's next kick for Halkirk.
Ben Sinclair could have sealed it for the Vikings but he struck a post. Thurso were celebrating moments later, though, as Hasheem Bremner fired his kick over the bar.
Michael Bremner acknowledged that Halkirk had the better of the chances as the game approached the 90-minute mark.
“It was opening up towards the end and they had two or three chances just past the post,” he said.
“It's unreal, but it's all credit to Stevie Reid for getting us to the final. I just picked the team today and that was it.
“I said when I came in that the squad was there. They've just gone out and proved it.
“Marc Macgregor has had a lot of bother with his knee so he only came on midway through the second half. Once we get boys like that starting to come back we can push on again.”
Halkirk United manager Ewan McElroy said: “Penalties are always a bit of a lottery. Towards the end we were applying some pretty significant pressure and probably just wanted the game to continue.
“However, I would like to extend my congratulations to Thurso. Well done to all of them and additionally Stevie Reid, because he's the one that really got that team into the final.
“It was two relatively evenly matched teams. Thurso started the better. I think we struggled to get to grips with the conditions for the first 10 minutes but we did slowly get into the game.
“We knew it was going to be a heavy and slippery surface but that was the same for both teams.”
McElroy believes there is much more to come from his squad.
“Despite the disappointment that we're feeling just now, we're very much proud of them,” he said. “They've come a long way in a short time.
“They're a young team, they're a terrific group to work with. We'll just have to cast this aside and look to move on.”