We can be proud of what we've done, says Wick Groats boss after Highland Amateur Cup final loss
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Manager Kevin Anderson insisted Wick Groats could be proud of their achievements this year despite Saturday's Highland Amateur Cup final loss to Avoch.
Groats had been aiming to lift the trophy for a fifth time but they were beaten 1-0 in a scrappy, bruising encounter at Harmsworth Park in which chances were at a premium and there was little in the way of flowing football.
"There wasn't much in the game," Anderson said.
"We had a great chance in the first half that fell to Steven Anderson. It was a good save from the keeper but Steven was a bit gutted with himself, he thought he could have done better.
"I thought it was quite a scrappy game from both teams. There weren't many chances either way."
The decisive moment came on 53 minutes when Avoch's Stuart Leslie sent a high ball into the danger zone from the left edge of the penalty box. It looked more like an attempted cross than a shot, but either way it looped over the diving Kieran Macleod and went in at the far post.
Manager Anderson said: "Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. It goes for you or it goes against you, but it was probably a cross-cum-shot that has ended up in the back of the net.
"There are fine lines in football.
"We're obviously disappointed but it has been a great season. At the end of the day we can be proud of what we've done this year – we've won three out of five trophies.
"The league title was the number one priority at the start of the season and we've got that in the bag.
"Of course we would have wanted to win today. Of course we're disappointed. But you use days like today to fuel you going forward.
"We'll just need to take it on the chin."
Groats regained the Caithness AFA Division One title last week, having already won the Colin Macleod Memorial Cup and the David Allan Shield.
Saturday's game went ahead in warm sunshine after heavy rain in the morning.
Groats had to make an early change when Alan Mathieson hobbled off after eight minutes.
The first clear chance of the match fell to Groats about 10 minutes before half-time when Jonah Martens picked out Steven Anderson in space on the edge of the box, but keeper Neil Hastie reacted quickly and was able to smother the striker's shot.
Avoch broke downfield immediately and a hooked effort by Ian Penwright bounced off the top of the bar.
Avoch had an opportunity to put the issue beyond doubt in the closing stages when Leslie picked out the unmarked Dean Wallace but the newly introduced substitute knocked the ball over the top.
The players and officials had been led out by piper Andrew Sinclair, and Wick RBLS Pipe Band added to the sense of occasion by performing on the pitch at half-time. The attendance was estimated at between 700 and 800.
Wick Groats captain John Budge said: “It was obviously a battle in the first half. We maybe just edged it and had that chance with Steven Anderson at the end of the first half.
“In the second half I didn't think they had too much – it was just that one chance, really. I think it was more a cross than a shot, to be fair, but it found the top corner.
“There wasn't much between the two teams at all, but they got that lucky goal in the end which saw them through.”
Budge, who had been presented with the Caithness AFA player of the year award the previous evening, emphasised that it had still been a successful season for Groats.
“I think at the start of the season, with a big turnaround in players, a lot of people wrote Groats off a bit, but over the piece it was a good season," he said. "We won three trophies out of five, so we can't really complain.”
Manager Martyn MacAllister said he reckoned the celebrations could last for up to a week after Avoch lifted the Highland Amateur Cup for the seventh time in their history.
“I can't believe it – it's going to take a while to sink in," MacAllister said after the trophy presentation. "I'm absolutely delighted for the lads.
“It has been a tough cup run to get here but they've been brilliant, they've been absolutely excellent, and they deserved it today.
“I thought we were the better team. I didn't think it was the best of games, far from it, but I couldn't really care less – it's all about winning the trophy and that's all that matters to me.
“I don't think I've been involved in many cup finals that have been pretty. There was a lot of nerves involved in it too, but I thought we dealt with it better and I thought we deserved to win the game.
“All credit to Kevin and his boys – they're always there or thereabouts. I've got a lot of time for them.
“They're a good group of lads and they'll be back again next year as well, no doubt about it."
Avoch are now one behind eight-time winners Pentland United.
MacAllister said: “I saw a stat that it's 12 finals out of the last 18 years we've been involved in, since 2004.
“Pentland United are obviously in front. At the start of the competition the three teams that are bandied about are ourselves, Pentland United and Groats, and there's a reason for that.
“But we're just going to enjoy the next day or two, or week maybe, however long the celebrations go on for.”
Goalscorer Stuart Leslie admitted: “I think I'd be lying if I said it was intended as a goal, but it was put into the right area and if you don't buy a ticket you don't get a chance to win it.
“It was a bit fortunate but I think we deserved it in the end. It was a proper final. It probably wasn't the best for the neutral to watch, but on the balance of play we won the battle and came away with the win.”
Avoch, who play in the Inverness and District Football Association's Premier Division, had last won the Highland Amateur Cup in 2017. That was the last time it went to a team from outwith Caithness.
Pentland United and Wick Groats lifted the trophy in 2018 and 2019 respectively, then after a two-year Covid break High Ormlie Hotspur won it in 2022.