Ten-man Wick Academy hit by late goal flurry at Cove
Saturday saw Wick Academy’s 25th Highland League game away to Cove and it could conceivably be the last. A 5-0 defeat must look like a drubbing from the league leaders, and if you add an inspired first-half performance by keeper Sean McCarthy you might well conclude that Academy were lucky to escape from Balmoral Stadium without a double-figure deficit.
However, either team could have broken the deadlock during the goalless first half, and the result – and ultimately the winning margin – probably hinged on a 32nd-minute penalty incident.
A slick Academy passing move saw a Davie Allan effort deflected for a corner but Cove launched a swift counter-attack. McCarthy made a spectacular block to deny Cove’s top scorer Mitch Megginson. The ball rebounded to the striker, who was held back and tripped by Michael Steven – a clear goalscoring opportunity and inevitably a red card as well as a spot-kick.
McCarthy flung himself low to his left to keep out Megginson’s well-struck penalty.
The first-half action had seen a string of saves by McCarthy, who repeatedly foiled Megginson’s efforts, while Wick frequently broke forward. Their best chance came after 18 minutes when Jack Henry slipped the ball through ahead of Marc Macgregor whose 10-yard effort was saved by Stuart McKenzie.
Richard Macadie twice fired over the bar from 25 yards, while Macgregor and Allan had further opportunities.
Ten-man Wick defended well following the penalty but early in the second half Cove took the lead.
A Connor Scully free kick from out on the right went in off a head at the back post. Although the stadium announcer triumphantly declared a goal for Megginson, the ball had clearly come off the head of the unfortunate Macadie.
Academy had one last chance but McKenzie raced from his box to clear from Allan’s foot.
On 64 minutes a low cross from the right by Scully was dummied by Megginson and swept in at the back post by Martin Scott.
There was a notable moment for Wick’s Craig Gunn when he replaced Marc Macgregor midway through the second half. Seventeen years ago, as a 16-year-old, Gunn scored three times in a 4-3 win for Academy at Cove’s Allan Park to become the youngest player to hit a Highland League hat-trick – a record he still holds.
McCarthy twice parried red-hot Scully efforts and Academy looked set to avoid any further damage – but in the last five minutes the roof fell in.
Daniel Park’s angled shot cannoned off an upright and into the net off McCarthy’s shoulder, then Scott Ross scored with a close-range header at the back post. Megginson completed the nap hand with a tremendous drive from the left corner of the area which deflected over McCarthy into the far top corner.
Academy must now regroup for Wednesday’s league derby at home to Brora Rangers, while Cove prepare for Saturday’s cup final with Formartine United before needing just a few more points to retain the title and the earn the opportunity to rise up to the SPFL via the end-of-season play-offs.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, Kelly (Burnett 58), Milne (MacRae 73), Scully, Ross, Strachan, Park, Yule (Campbell 65), Megginson, Scott, Masson. Subs not used: Watson, Brown, Redford, McCafferty.
Wick Academy: McCarthy, R Allan, M Steven, Manson, Farquhar, Henry, Macgregor (Gunn 68), R Macadie, D Allan (M Macadie 85), MacNab (Aitkenhead 83), S Mackay. Subs not used: G Mackay, Clark.
Referee: Dan McFarlane.