Final match of the season + match report – 24.3.12

The Vikings lose 3-2 away to Dingwall Thistle in The Jock Mackay Cup semi-final. Both goals from James Murray.

Dingwall Thistle 3 v Thurso 2 – report by Iain Grant

The Vikings’ underwhelming North Caley season ground to a halt on Saturday when they lost out in the semi-final of the Jock Mackay Memorial Cup.

The Jags completed a hat-trick of wins over their north rivals though they had to battle back from going two behind in the opening quarter-of-an-hour.

Thurso manager Stevie Reid beforehand implored his side to rid themselves of their recent costly habit of gifting their opponents avoidable early goals.

The boot was on the other foot on Saturday though Dingwall hit back immediately after conceding the second.

In an incident-packed second half which saw two Vikings and one Jags player red-carded, a Craig Stuart double clinched the home side’s place in the final versus Clach.

Garry MacLeod’s debut and Shaun Forbes’ return produced yet another defensive combination for Thurso for whom two late call-offs meant Reid and his assistant Ross Sutherland were forced to provide emergency back-up on the bench.

Both were relieved not to be pressed into service on an afternoon when the unseasonally high temperature was matched by a high-tempo and occasionally fiery contest.

Graham MacNab, playing in a central midfield role, was involved in both of Thurso’s goals.

On six minutes, his prompt found James Murray with space on the left corner of the penalty box.

The striker bided his time as he faced Steven Hyslop, waiting for the keeper to commit himself before dinking the ball over him into then net.

MacNab’s surge triggered the move from which his side got further joy on 14 minutes.

He fed Mark MacGregor who promptly squared to Murray who lashed the ball past a helpless Hyslop.

From the kick-off, the Vikings’ defensive frailty, which has dogged them all season, came back to haunt them.

An innocuous-looking punt caused confusion between MacLeod and keeper Asa Sinclair.

With the sweeper waiting in vain for the keeper to claim it, Stuart Mackay nipped in and was upended by MacLeod as he raced into the box. The resultant penalty was coolly converted by Paul Gair.

Both sides had several half-chances in the remainder of the half in which the visitors had the edge in the possession stakes.

Within two minutes of the turnaround, Thistle were level.

Gair’s free-kick found Stuart unmarked and the smallest man in the pitch rose to send a looping header over Sinclair into the far top corner.

Thurso almost retook the lead when Lee Elder looked asset to connect with a through-ball only to be denied as Hyslop came out to make a save smother-save.

Both sides were left short-handed after Michael Petrie and Martin MacAllister clashed around the hour-mark.

Petrie’s late tackle prompted the Dingwall man to angrily raise his hands and push the Vikings midfielder.

Ref John Bicknell showed red to both with Petrie perhaps likely to have escaped with a caution but for MacAllister’s petulance.

What proved the winner on 67 minutes stemmed from another Gair free-kick.

His delivery was not properly cleared and Stuart was able to prod the ball home from close range.

Thurso ended with nine men when MacNab’s second caution for two fouls saw him dismissed.

Keeper Sinclair kept them in with a shout when he blocked, first with his feet and then a hand, when Stuart Mackay twice bore down on him.

The Vikings camp were incensed three minutes from time when sub Martin Sinclair was scythed down in the penalty box as he ran through on goal.

Mr Bicknell was unsighted and his nearside assistant saw nothing amiss.

Manager Reid was left to reflect on a frustrating end to what has been a difficult campaign.

It was disappointing we were not able to end the season with a final,” he said.

There’s been a fine margin in a lot of the games that we’ve lost.

Defensively, we’ve been switching off at crucial moments and that has cost us dear.”

He said Saturday’s game was evenly balanced and he believed his side should have had more reward for their first half showing.

He also remains aggrieved at the late penalty controversy. That was as much a stone-stone-waller as I’ve seen.”

This season was always going to be tough for Thurso given the loss of the spine of the side which anchored the side to a clutch of honours over the past decade or so.

But Reid sees potential in the side to come good. He said: “It’s been really encouraging to see the young boys like Chris Wann and Ryan Begg come through and Marc MacGregor has done exceptionally well in his first year. Lucas (Gerazel) is also a big find.”

Dingwall Thistle – Hyslop, McBain, Bain, MacAllister, Pirie, Wilson, Miller (MacDonald 60), P. Gair, Stuart, Urquhart. S. Mackay. Subs (unused) – Mackay, A. Gair and O’Connor.

Thurso – A. Sinclair, Manson, MacLeod, S. Sinclair, Forbes, Petrie,Wann, MacNab, Murray, MacGregor, Elder (M. Sinclair 62). Subs (unused) – Sutherland and Reid.

Ref – Mr J. Bicknell.

Latest Vikings result + match report – 17.3.12

Yesterday’s score…..North Caledonian League – Thurso 1 V Muir of Ord Rovers 2 – Vikings goal from Lucasz Gerazel

Thurso 1 v Muir of Ord Rovers 2 – report from Iain Grant

The Vikings were unable to sign off their North Caley League campaign with a victory against title-chasers Muir.

The visitors prevailed to keep alive their championship hopes though they had to endure a nervy climax before securing the three points.

Such a tense finale seemed improbable as Muir took a firm hold of the contest midway through the first half.

When they were awarded a penalty while two goals to the good, the outlook looked decidedly bleak for the home outfit.

But they were thrown a lifeline when veteran defender John Skinner skied the spot-kick at the changing room end.

Within minutes, Thurso’s Polish marksman Lucas Gerazel struck to put his side right back in the mix.

There was little between the sides in terms of possession and territory after the break but the Vikings’ continued challenge was sustained to the death as a result of a man-of-the-match display by keeper Asa Sinclair.

Thurso started with yet another rearguard, with Sean Stewart and Kyle Ross coming in for the injured Lewis Harrold and unavailable Shaun Forbes.

The enforced changes contributed to a hesitant opening which Muir exploited to conjure up a clutch of openings in the opening period.

Right winger Eddie Fuller was a particular threat with his jinking runs and dangerous deliveries from wide out.

A mistake by Ross on four minutes led to Daryl Henderson bearing down on keeper Sinclair who was not required thanks to a block from the back-tracking Stuart Sinclair.

Two minutes later, Muir went in front when Ewan Dance’s powerful header at the far post from Fuller’s driven cross gave keeper Sinclair no chance.

At the other end, MacNab netted after a classic piece of hold-up play from Gerazel but the former had strayed just offside before the ball was played through to him.

Fuller almost created a replica of the first goal on 18 minutes when he scooted past Stewart before crafting a centre which Gillies MacKenzie was a hairbreadth way from what would have been a scoring connection.

Asa Sinclair made his first important intervention on 22 minutes when he got the merest of touches needed to turn Kevin Leitch’s snap-shot behind.

Muir went two up on 28 minutes when the home defence was posted missing as Kevin Fraser was allowed to drive forward almost to the edge of the penalty box before squaring to Dance.

The striker coolly committed keeper Sinclair before side-footing the ball into the gaping net.

Dance went close with a header before his side was given a golden chance to effectively seal the contest.

But Skinner fluffed his lines after Stuart Sinclair’s late tackle in the box on the quicksilver Fuller.

The miss was magnified on 38 minutes when Gerazel’s header from Lee Elder’s centre went over the line before Davie Brennan hacked clear.

He was cautioned for his over-vigorous protest with Elder and Fraser joining him in ref Graham Elder’s book before the interval.

Thurso started the second half in determined mood and Gerazel came within a whisker of the equaliser when his header from Michael Petrie’s assist eluded keeper Bob Rose only to come back off the face of the crossbar.

Thurso may have seen at least as much of the ball after the turnaround but Muir continued to show the greater goal threat.

MacKenzie should perhaps have done better than head into the side-net after his late run was picked out by the evergreen Davie Ross.

MacKenzie then fired just over before keeper Sinclair got down well to foil Dance.

The keeper went on to throw himself to his left to parry Fraser’s vicious strike and then again thwarted Dance’s hat-trick when he turned the striker’s 20 yarder past his near post.

Dance was out of luck once more when his header from a corner found the junction of the bar and the left upright.

On 75 minutes, the home keeper continued his heroics, this time spreading himself to block from the inrushing Fraser.

The roll-call of Muir chances makes it sound like an one-sided affair, which it wasn’t.

But, for all their possession, Thurso were unable to seriously trouble a flint-like defence, commanded by old stagers Brennan and Skinner.

The last action in the Muir box came two minutes from time when Rose bravely took a steepling cross, under serious pressure from sub Martin Sinclair.

A good-tempered second period brought just one more booking for Thurso’s Chris Wann.

Home manager Stevie Reid said: “Once again, we paid the price for getting off to a horrendous start.

The goals we conceded were soft and we got a major break when they missed the penalty.

We then battled our way back into the game and I thought the second half was pretty even.”

Thurso – A. Sinclair, Manson, Stewart, S. Sinclair, Ross, Petrie,Miller (Wares 67), Wann, Garazel, MacNab, Elder (M. Sinclair 61).

Muir of Ord Rovers – Rose, Geegan, Leitch, Skinner, Brennan, Ross, Fuller, Fraser, Dance, Henderson (Farquhar 77), MacKenzie (Calvert 80). Sub (unused) – MacGruer.

Ref – Mr G. Elder.

Golspie Sutherland 3 v Thurso 2 – report from Iain Grant – 10.3.12

Golspie Sutherland 3 v Thurso 2 – report from Iain Grant

Saturday’s defeat at King George V Park extended Thurso’s run of thin pickings on the road in North Caley action this season.

Michael Sanderson’s opener followed by a brace from Shane Sutherland topped Lukas Garazel’s leveller and young sub Mark MacGregor’s late strike to consign the Vikings to their sixth defeat in eight away outings.

They recovered after a low-key opening to play their part in an entertaining tussle and perhaps deserved to return north with some reward.

Golspie are on a good run with this win putting them third, with just too much to do to make up ground on Halkirk United and Muir of Ord Rovers.

The home side forged in front on 13 minutes when Tommy Campbell’s cutback from near the bye-line was met first-time by Sanderson whose crisp left side-foot flashed past keeper Asa Sinclair.

The lead lasted all of two minutes by when Gerazel netted with a powerful header from Lee Elder’s well-flighted corner.

The Polish striker again proved his worth with some crafty hold-up play and links and his aerial prowess.

There was little to choose between the sides for the remainder of the half when neither keeper came under serious threat.

Stuart Sinclair marred an otherwise sound display in the middle of defence when he upended Shane Sutherland in the penalty box soon after the turnaround.

Sutherland dusted himself down before converting the spot-kick.

MacGregor went desperately close to an equaliser when his overhead kick wrongfooted stand-in keeper Gordon MacRae only to come back off a post.

Thurso continued to show up well with Graham MacNab – out for most of the season through injury — impressing in his new role in the centre of midfield.

But their efforts went unrewarded and they found themselves 3-1 down with 12 minutes remaining.

Shane Sutherland grabbed his second when he demonstrated close control in chesting down a deep cross before dispatching a firm right-foot volley past Sinclair.

Thurso again responded within two minutes when Gerazel did the donkey work to allow MacGregor to fire home his fifth of the season from six yards.

Golspie spent the remainder of the match on defensive mode though persistent Thurso pressure produced no more than a couple of half-chances.

Manager Stevie Reid said his side had played out a script which had been all to familiar this campaign.

He said: “I wasn’t too happy about the first half performance when I thought some of our players were just going through the motions.

“We were much better after the break and it was nip and tuck before they got their third goal.

“Even then, we worked to get one back and we finished very strongly but just couldn’t force the equaliser.”

Reid believed his side were worthy of at least a point in a match, played on a heavy pitch.

He said: “I thought that overall we competed well against a decent, experienced Golspie side.

“Graeme showed what we have been missing for most of the season while Lukas again proved a real handful up front for us.”

Golspie Sutherland – MacRae, McKernie (A. Smith 7), J. Smith, J. Sutherland, Mailley, (Henstridge 65), Sanderson, A. Sutherland, Campbell, Kerr (Pullen 80), Grant, S. Sutherland. Sub (Unused) – MacKenzie.

Thurso – A. Sinclair, Manson, Harrold (Sutherland 75), S. Sinclair, Forbes, Wann (Wares 70), MacNab, Petrie, Gerazel, Murray, Elder (MacGregor 68).

Ref – Mr J. Nicolson.

Dingwall Thistle 4 V Thurso 2- report from Iain Grant – 3.3.12

Dingwall Thistle 4 V Thurso 2- report from Iain Grant

A pumped-up second half display by the Vikings failed to salvage the

terminal early damage inflicted upon them in Saturday’s tussle at Jubilee Park.

Shell-shocked after shipping three goals within 18 minutes, Thurso’s porous outfield defence came perilously close to falling further behind.

They were baled out by several last-ditch stops from keeper Asa Sinclair before their Polish striker Lukas Gerazel gave them hope when he marked his first start with a goal close to the interval.

Thurso went on to seize the initiative with a more attacking formation after the break putting their hosts firmly on the back foot.

They passed up several inviting opportunist before Gerazel popped up to net his second with a minute left.

Dingwall proceeded to snatch a fourth and seal this Football Times quarter-final tie, which also counted for North Caley League points.

The Jags took less than a minute to grab the opener with Paul Gair’s pass picking out Gary Urquhart’s unopposed spurt into the box.

Urquhart, who was to prove a menacing presence on the right flank, picked his moment to guide the ball past Sinclair.

Thurso responded with a sparky sequence involving Gerazel, James Murray and Ryan Begg which ended with Lee Elder’s angled strike drifting narrowly past the far post.

Thistle proceeded to sting the Vikings with two goals in as many minutes.

On 16 minutes, Martin MacLean was given licence to roam down the right and Stuart Mackay rose to head MacLean’s deep cross past keeper Sinclair.

Thurso were still absorbing that setback when they conceded again .

A loose pass gave MacLean a clear sight of goal 20 yards out and his measured 20 yarder went in off the inside of the left post.

Thurso’s defence was thereafter all at sea and Dingwall eagerly pressed forward in expectation rather than hope of further reward,

Mackay’s half-volley from Iain Wilson’s deep cross required a goal-line block from keeper Sinclair.

Stevie Pirie then cannoned back off the face of the crossbar on 26 minutes before Sinclair was to the fore again when he kept out Craig Stuart’s attempt from Urquhart’s set-up.

The same pair combined but this time Stuart’s headed effort lacked power and was easily pouched by Sinclair.

Thurso survived and found a way back into the contest on 38 minutes when Murray threaded a pass through for Garazel who outmuscled his marker before planting a firm shot behind Steven Hyslop.

The Jags would have restored their three goal advantage had Mackay managed to find a way past Sinclair after being put in the clear.

Thistle’s brio was soon to dissipate as they faced a new challenge after their opponents changed to a 4-2-4 formation.

Having barely troubled Hyslop before the interval, the keeper was kept on his toes throughout the second half.

He was called into emergency action on 56 minutes when Lewis Harrold’s free-kick was headed on by Murray to Michael Petrie whose hook-shot was parried to safety by the keeper.

Ref John Bickham then turned deaf ears to penalty claims at either end, with Pirie appearing to handle near the penalty spot before Stuart went down in the box after a tangle with Derek Manson.

Manson’s composed debut would have been memorable had he managed to connect from close in to Gerazel’s head-on from another Harrold free-kick on 65 minutes.

The 28-year-old Pole’s dominance in the air unsettled the home defence and he was soon setting up another clear opening for Elder who was unable to find the target with a close-in header.

The pressure was maintained, with Marc MacGregor and Murray going close with headers, before Sinclair had to look lively to turn a Mackay effort behind.

Gerazel’s headed finish from Petrie’s corner came with one minute of normal time and five minutes of injury-time left.

But just as they prepared to mount a final blitz, Thistle promptly effectively killed the contest.

MacLean’s stinging shot from just outside the interval was palmed out by Sinclair and sub Darren Gollar was quickest to react, prodding home from four yards.

There was still time for drama at the other end when Martyn MacAllister’s abortive pass-back led to Hyslop felling Murray as the striker raced into the box.

Hyslop was duly red-carded though officials adjudged the foul was committed outside the box.

The free-kick came to naught though sub Martin Sinclair went close

with the final action when his stooped header flashed wide.

Dingwall Thistle – Hyslop, Wilson, Bain ( MacDonald 62), MacAllister, Pirie, MacBean, Urquhart, Gair, Stuart (Gollar 88), MacLean, Mackay. Subs (unused) – Dorrian, Godwin and Manson.

Thurso – A. Sinclair, Manson, Harrold (Sutherland 82), S. Sinclair, Forbes, G. MacGregor, Petrie, Begg (M. MacGregor 60), Garazel, Murray, Elder (M. Sinclair 86).

Ref – Mr J. Bicknell

Balintore 0 V Thurso 2 – report from Iain Grant – 11.2.12

Balintore 0 V Thurso 2 – report from Iain Grant

Thurso completed a league double over Balintore on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of a top four place in the North Caley League.

First half goals from Michael Petrie and Marc MacGregor saw off a spirited home outfit who are still searching for their first victory of the season.

The Vikings had yet another new central defensive partnership with absentees seeing Stuart Sinclair making a rare appearance alongside Sean Stewart.

They also gave an outing to Polish forward Lukas Geruzel whose appearance off the bench was enough to convince manager Stevie Reid that he could prove a useful addition for the remainder of the campaign.

Seaboard Park is normally firm but it was unable to cope with heavy rain in the lead-up to the game and the surface quickly cut up.

The visitors had passed up a couple of half-chances before Petrie grabbed his first goal of the season.

Graham MacNab, returning to fitness after a spell out injured, created the chance with a probe down the right flank.

His pull-back dovetailed with Petrie’s late run and he fired past keeper Eddie Shearer.

Thurso kept the upper hand and a foray forward by defender Martin Sutherland almost paid dividends when his lusty strike skimmed just over.

While the Vikings had the bulk of the play, their hard-working opponents harried and hounded to restrict the quality of supply to MacNab and Marc MacGregor.

They were however undone on 36 minutes by a sprightly passage of play prompted by Chris Wann.

He exchanged passes with Ryan Begg before releasing MacNab whose centre allowed Marc MacGregor to side-foot the ball past Shearer.

At the interval, Reid reminded his troops of their previous game in the Jock Mackay Memorial Cup when they led 2-0 at the same stage at home to Balintore and ended up hanging on for a scratchy 3-2 win.

There were no such fade-out this time though visiting keeper Asa Sinclair was called on to pull off a couple of decent saves to keep his goal intact.

The Vikings spurned chances to rack up a more convincing victory. Marc MacGregor fired narrowly wide before hitting a post and then ballooning a clear opening over.

Begg marred an otherwise impressive display when he was unable to beat Shearer when put in the clear.

Garuzel, a 28-year-old Norscot worker, has not played for some time but showed some nice touches when he entered the fray for the closing half-hour. He went close with a left-foot effort which was blocked though showed his ring-rustiness when he failed to connect with another chance with his less favoured right foot,

Manager Reid was happy enough with the win, which puts Thurso into joint fourth.

He said: “Balintore are stuffy side and made it difficult for us though we should have ran out easier winners. It was decent overall performance and again we fielded a pretty young side.”

Thurso have work to do if they are to secure a high enough placing to qualify for next season’s North of Scotland Cup.

They have a tough run-in with their remaining three matches being away to Golspie Sutherland and Dingwall Thistle and at home to Muir of Ord Rovers.

Thurso – A. Sinclair, Sutherland, Harrold, S. Sinclair, Stewart, Petrie, G. MacGregor, Wann (Garuzel 60), Begg, M. MacGregor (M. Sinclair 70), MacNab (Miller 72).

Ref – Mr G. Dearie.

Thurso 3 v Balintore 2 – report from Iain Grant – 28.1.12

Thurso 3 Balintore 2 – report from Iain Grant

Balintore made the Vikings scrap to progress to the semi-final of the Jock Mackay Memorial Cup on Saturday.

Having established a 2-0 interval advantage, the Vikings looked like completing a comfortable victory in their defence of one of the three knock-out trophies they won last season.

But the visitors made life difficult for their hosts who flagged badly and were relieved not to be taken to extra-time.

One major plus for Thurso manager Stevie Reid was the display of striker James Murray, whose transfer from Brora Rangers was finalised the previous day.

Murray, who had a previous spell with the Vikings, scored a brace including a humdinger of an opener.

He also impressed with his hold-up play, linkages and the timing and angles of his forward runs.

Murray opened his account on 18 minutes when he latched on to a long-range feed from debutant Gary Mackay.

The striker neatly turned his marker before striding forward and unleashing a blistering drive from the left corner of the 18 yard box which arrowed into the top-right hand corner of the net.

Murray and Michael Petrie then went close with half-chances as Thurso pressed for the further rewards their dominance merited.

On the half-hour mark, Petrie’s dink released Murray whose shot from the edge of the box was touched over the bar by keeper Ray McRitchie.

A brainstorm from the keeper on 36minutes led to him being booked for handling the ball outside his penalty box when under no pressure.

The free-kick swung in by Lewis Harrold was back-headed on to his own post by Ross Powell with Murray burying the rebound behind McRitchie.

Martin Sutherland almost added to the lead when he made space for himself on the edge of the box before firing a shot which skimmed just wide.

Three minutes from half-time had their first opening, courtesy of a headed clearance from home keeper Asa Sinclair. Powell was 40 yards out but he was unable to find the target.

To add injury to insult, the midfielder turned an ankle in the process and had to limp from the action.

Mackay was then to the fore in making a crucial interception after a slip from fellow defender John Budge.

Largely punchless in the first half, ‘Tore traded blows after the turnaround.

An early sign of their new-found vigour came when Sinclair was forced to make a brave block to deny Thurso-based forward Darren Malcolm.

The visitors threatened on another couple of occasions before they got a goal back on 59 minutes.

James Metcalfe seized on a loose ball 25 yards out and threaded a low drive that found the small gap between Sinclair and his far post.

The Petrie/ Murray link would have restored Thurso’s two goal advantage had MacRitchie not managed to get a fist to the striker’s blast.

Marc MacGregor then had a header from a corner cleared off the line with sub Paul Wares unable to force home the loose ball.

MacRitchie got away with a goal-line fumble of a Harrold free-kick but was beaten on 67 minutes when Marc MacGregor latched on to Tony Miller’s feed to round the keeper and tap the ball into the empty net.

MacRitchie went on to deny Miller and Marc MacGregor as Thurso sought to exploit ‘Tore’s defensive frailty as they pushed resources forward.

The visitors almost got a second on 72 minutes when Malcolm beat Sinclair to Neil MacVicar’s through-ball but saw his shot drift wide of the right upright.

Two minutes later, their gung-ho tactics paid off when an ill-conceived pass-back from Murray resulted in Scott Miller surging past Sinclair before netting.

Within minutes, Miller was romping into the penalty box again though this time Sinclair came out on top as he made a brave smother.

Marc MacGregor could have eased the home camp’s nerves after he was put clear by Wares on 88 minutes but the young striker shot weakly at MacRitchie.

Thurso manager Stevie Reid was left scratching his head at how his side faded out of the game after their first half stranglehold of possession.

It’s hard to explain,” he said.  I wasn’t happy with our overall play – too many of our guys were hiding. We’ll take a win every time but the performance could have been a lot better. You also have to realise that this was probably the youngest team Thurso has ever fielded.”

Thurso — Sinclair, Stewart, Harrold, Budge, Mackay, G. MacGregor, Petrie, Wann (Wares h/t), Murray, M. MacGregor, Sutherland (Miller 64). Sub (unused) – Bell.

Balintore – McRitchie, Davis (McVicar 62), Metcalfe, MacGruer, Sinclair, Powell (Murray 43), Durrand, Oman, Farquhar, Malcolm, Miller.

Ref – Mr G. John.

Thurso 1 V Halkirk United 4 (7.1.12) – report from Iain Grant

Thurso 1 V Halkirk United 4 (7.1.12) – report from Iain Grant

The Anglers regained top spot in the North Caley League after completing a double over their county rivals on Saturday.

The previous 4-0 win in Halkirk and the follow-up 3-0 cup victory in Thurso were relative strolls in the park.

But the comfort factor was notably missing for Jock Mackay’s men in Saturday’s derby at Sir Georges Park and not only because of the foul weather.

The final margin betrayed what had been a real dogfight which was in the melting pot until a late double from United sub Martin Banks.

Vikings striker Marc MacGregor had cancelled out Grant MacNab’s early opener before Jack Halliday restored United’s lead with a hotly disputed strike just before half-time.

Thurso were chasing a second leveller when they were dealt a body-blow with sub Lee Elder’s red-carding.

Two pitch inspections and a liberal coating of sand on the mudbound goalmouths were needed before the tie was given the go-ahead.

The wisdom of this was questioned when the kick-off coincided with a violent hail storm.

It proved short-lived but regular rain-showers produced gluepot conditions and soon after the interval passing in some parts of the pitch had become something of a lottery.

United forged ahead on 17 minutes from what was the first serious attack at either end.

Grant MacNab, a busy presence early on, launched Nigel MacKenzie down the right flank and his precise, low cross caused panic stations.

It was outwith the reach of keeper Asa Sinclair and ricocheted off centre-back Shaun Forbes to MacNab who netted from six yards.

The home side almost had the perfect riposte after forcing a corner from the restart.

A loose ball was seized upon by the fit-again Graham MacNab whose 20 yarder whizzed just over the junction of the bar and the right upright.

Thurso’s young midfielder Ryan Begg had a penalty claim rejected before his side equalised on 28 minutes.

A surging run from triallist Grant Budge ended with his cross picking out Marc MacGregor’s near-post run and he neatly fired past keeper Graeme Williamson.

Home keeper Asa Sinclair then needed to show sure handling, first to field a steepling cross-cum-shot from MacKenzie and then to hold a long-ranger from Colin Davidson.

The Vikings, who were facing the elements, looked set to get in at the interval on terms but they were stung by a 43nd minute counter.

Chris Sutherland’s feed and Grant MacNab’s well-timed run had the latter racing in behind the home rearguard.

The striker round Sinclair but was forced wide and played the ball forward to Halliday who looked yards offside before scoring off the left post.

The Vikings required a late intervention by centre-half Stuart Sinclair soon after the turnaround to prevent Sutherland converting Grant MacNab’s assist.

The industry of Gary McGregor and Chris Wann and Kyle Ross’s push forward gave Thurso an edge and they came desperately close to getting on terms.

On 56 minutes, Elder set up Marc MacGregor whose firm shot demanded sharp reactions from Williamson to turn it behind.

Elder then should have done better when released by Ross than give the keeper a more routine stop.

The pressure was kept on with Harrold capping a forward foray with a low drive which scraped past Williamson’s far post.

A well-tempered contest had seen bookings for Grant MacNab and Gary MacGregor before an ugly flare-up on 74 minutes in the Halkirk goalmouth.

A flurry of elbows and exchange of words in the prelude to a corner ended with Elder walking and MacKenzie being yellow-carded.

United took advantage of the extra man to clinch victory with Banks’ late double.

Ten minutes from time, the pint-sized Wick striker netted with a header from Colin Sinclair’s free-kick.

Within a minute, he had his second when a quickly taken free-kick caught out the home defence.

Michael Bremner released Alan Larnach whose cutback was driven home by Banks for his sixth goal of the season.

Bremner could have added to the Vikings’ misery but he shot past when he should have teed up the unmarked Larnach.

Immediately before kick-off, players, officials and spectators observed a 30 second hand-clap in memory of George Dobbie, a regular at Vikings home games, who died recently.

Thurso – Sinclair, Begg (Bremner 84), Harrold, Forbes (Stewart 90), Sinclair, G. MacGregor, Wann, Ross, MacNab (Elder 40), Budge, M. MacGregor. Subs (unused) – Wares and Petrie.

Halkirk United – Williamson, C. Sinclair, Florence, A. Sinclair, Davidson, Henderson (Cook 66), MacNab (Banks 60), Halliday, Sutherland (Bremner 78), MacKenzie, Larnach. Sub (unused – G. Sinclair.

Ref – Mr G. Elder.

Thurso 0 V Halkirk United 3 – report by Iain Grant

Thurso 0 V Halkirk United 3 – report by Iain Grant

Halkirk extended their recent cycle of success over their county rivals as they claimed a place in the SWL Cup semi-final on Saturday.

Nine of the last 12 derby matches have now gone their way after they belatedly broke their duck against the Vikings.

The Anglers took seven years dating from Thurso’s launch in 1998/99 to get one over their neighbours. They have in recent seasons being playing serious catch-up.

On Saturday, they stunned their hosts by scoring twice in a minute before the game had settled into a pattern.

The initiative remained with them thereafter with Martin Banks’ second late on less a clincher then providing the icing on the cake.

Chris Sutherland had got the opener to continue his recent hot streak in front of goal.

Thurso saw plenty of the ball with the hard-working Michael Petrie and second half sub Ryan Begg catching the eye.

But they posed little threat at the business end with Anglers keeper Graeme Williamson having a largely undisturbed afternoon.

Halkirk, by contrast, regularly unsettled the opposing defence with the promptings of Michael Bremner and Martyn Cook and the movement and pace of Grant MacNab, Banks and Sutherland.

In the opening minutes, Sutherland was unable to connect with MacNab’s inviting layback and Bremner’s long-range feed was marginally too strong for MacNbab.

Home keeper Asa Sinclair was called into action to palm clear a MacNab dig from the edge of the box.

The wide right flank was to prove a particularly productive area for Halkirk to exploit during the first half.

Both goals stemmed from it though the first on 12th minute came off Thurso possession.

Sean Stewart was pick-pocketed by Sutherland who was afforded an unobstructed run-in before calmly cutting the ball between Sinclair and the left upright.

The Vikings were still reflecting on that setback when they fell further behind. MacNab’s diagonal sent Sutherland haring down the right wing and his early cutback was swept in at the near post by Banks.

Thurso were luckless on 17 minutes when Jimmy Budge’s back-header from Petrie’s free-kick looked a winner all the way.

But his attempt picked up the merest of deflections off a defender which was enough to see it brush just past the left post.

a MacNab header at the other end finished just wide of the target before Sinclair was again to the fore when he flung himself to keep out Banks’ close-in strike from Sutherland’s cross.

The Anglers were by far the zippier and looked good value to increase their lead. They would have done so on 28 minutes had Sutherland been able to provide the finish which clever build-up involving Banks and Jack Halliday deserved.

Jimmy Budge saw a decent hook-shot fly just over before Sinclair required to pull off another reaction stop to deny Halliday after Thurso were again cruelly exposed on their left side.

Banks and MacNab were booked for dissent either side of the interval while Derrick Shearer joined them in the book for a foul he committed within a minute of coming on.

On 50 minutes, Sinclair made a meal of gathering a free-kick as the game slipped into a largely insipid affair with both sides guilty of giving up possession cheaply.

Sutherland fired a foot wide with a snap-shot and Banks was inches away with a curling effort as United sought a killer third.

Stuart Florence’s sally down the right on 67 minutes set up MacNab whose 25 yarder zinged fractionally wide.

Any lingering hopes the home men nourished realistically evaporated on 73 minutes when they were left to soldier on with 10 men.

Shearer was the guilty party as his cynical block on Banks just outside the penalty box as he raced on to a Bremner pass left ref Graham Elder no option than to show the Castletown man a second yellow card.

Graham MacNab’s looping header was turned over the bar by Sinclair before the visitors made it 3-0 10 minutes from time when Halliday played in Banks who ran on before tucking the ball past Sinclair.

Thurso – Sinclair, Stewart, Sutherland (Shearer h/t), Smith, Forbes, John Budge, Harrold (Begg h/t), Bremner, J.  Budge, MacGregor (Miller 74) Petrie.

Halkirk United – Williamson, G. Sinclair, Davidson, Florence, C. Sinclair, Cook, Halliday, Bremner (Budge 80), C. Sutherland, MacNab (Howden (80), Banks. Sub (unused – Murray).

Ref – Mr G. Elder.

Thurso 4 V Clachnacuddin ‘A’ 2 – report from Iain Grant

Thurso 4 V Clach A 2 – report from Iain Grant

Thurso completed a double over Clach’s second string on Saturday to move up to fourth in the North Caley League.

Stevie Reid’s young guns commendably remained unfazed after seeing a two goal lead evaporate through defensive gaffes.

They finished on top thanks to two goals in the final 15 minutes to chalk up their third successive win at Sir Georges Park.

With all-time top scorer Mark Nichol – 189 goals in nine seasons – having vamoosed for a year’s work stint in Australia, the manager is looking for more players to get among the goals.

A good start was made on Saturday with four different marksmen all getting their firsts of the season.

Greg Shearer and Ryan Begg gave their side an early cushion before Marc MacGregor and Lewis Harrold restored their two goal advantage late on.

The Vikings capitalised on a sprightly start by taking an eighth minute lead when a flowing move down the right was finished off by Shearer.

Three minutes later, a carbon-copy sequence provided Begg with the chance which he took to put them 2-0 up.

The Lilywhites also fielded a young, inexperienced side though they responded well to the early setbacks.

A good spell was almost rewarded when midfielder Mark MacKenzie’s rasping drive came back off the bar.

The home side passed up a couple of half-chances before Clach got right back into the contest with a goal a minute before the interval.

A cross-ball caused confusion between keeper Neale Clark and John Budge, who were both making their first appearances of the season.

Gordon Hooker cashed in by seizing on the unclaimed ball to net from close range.

Clach A enjoyed the better of the early exchanges after the break but had created no clear openings before their equaliser close to the hour-mark.

Once again, a cross-ball caused cross-wires in the home defence with Budge ending up clipping the ball over keeper Clark.

The reverse appeared to galvanise the Vikings who looked as if they had reclaimed the lead with a headed goal from Liam Bremner.

Bremner outjumped keeper Douglas MacLennan and ref Graham John initially appeared to signal a goal.

The home side had regrouped in their own half when Mr John rescinded the strike and awarded a free-kick for a barge on the keeper.

Undeterred, Thurso recaptured their lead on 75 minutes when MacGregor capped a memorable first start for the club with a debut goal.

After exchanging passes with Bremner, the John O’Groats teenager  veered in from the left and steered a firm shot past MacLennan.

That drew the sting from the visitors and Harrold sealed victory five minutes from time with his low free-kick deceiving the keeper as it found the inside of the net at the far post.

Manager Reid praised the resilience of his young troops in hitting back after losing their lead. He said: “Unlike the last few matches, we got of to a really good start and got two good goals. “They also had a young side and they had good spells without causing us too much trouble. “Both goals were down to defensive errors but the guys retained belief and we started pushing on and got their reward.”

Thurso – Clark, Stewart, Forbes, Budge, Harrold, Wann, Shearer, Begg (Wares 70) Bremner, MacGregor (Traill 78), Petrie. Sub (unused) – Mackintosh.

Clach – MacLennan, Morrison, Spence, Reid, MacQuordale, S. Chisholm, MacKenzie, Smith, Corbett, Hooker, MacKernan. Sub (unused) – A. Chisholm.

Ref – Mr G. John.

Alness United 1 V Thurso 0 – report from Iain Grant

Alness United 1 V Thurso 0 – report from Iain Grant

A late barrage narrowly failed to salvage a point for the Vikings on their trip to Dalmore Park.

They were at the receiving end for two-thirds of the match with keeper Asa Sinclair keeping them in the contest with several outstanding saves.

It was however home custodian Andrew Maitland who ensured his side collected all three points with a marvellous reaction stop late on to deny a close-in header from Jimmy Budge.

Of Thurso’s starting X1 on Saturday, just Sean Stewart and Michael Petrie played in the corresponding fixture last season, which they won 5-0.

With the backbone of the squad which won a handful of trophies over the past two seasons gone, manager Stevie Reid is facing a major rebuilding operation.

The display of his young squad on Saturday gives plenty of hope for the future.

A dearth of central defenders required regular frontman Jimmy Budge partnering John Smith before he was pushed forward for the final half-hour.

Until then, Liam Bremner ploughed a lone furrow up front and was given next-to-no opportunities.

The home side had the stranglehold on possession though their attacks regularly broke down in the final third.

Their first attempt on goal saw centre-half Stuart Pearce’s header from a corner hacked clear among claims that the ball had crossed the line.

Sinclair’s first serious intervention came when he was alert enough to pouch a 40 yard snap-shot from defender Muir Morton.

The all-important goal came just before the half-hour mark when Christopher Graham drifted in from the left and powered an angled shot past Sinclair.

Thurso’s only real threat in the first half was a decent dig from the hard-working Petrie, which flew just wide.

The home side twice came close to extending their lead after the interval.

Sinclair excelled in first blocking a 20 yard strike from Thurso exile John MacLeod and then diving to push behind a power-drive from former Golspie Sutherland player Donald Sutherland.

Thurso’s hopes were revived by a reshuffle which saw Budge join Bremner up front and Petrie and Chris Wann start to call the shots in midfield.

Bremner went close when he ghosted past a couple of defenders before unleashing a shot which shaved a post.

Sub Paul Wares also pepped up the visiting challenge though he skied over when given a clear sight of goal.

Maitland twice denied Budge, the second 10 minutes from time when he somehow turned the striker’s close-range header over.

Alness were seriously rattled and they had to survive a pinball sequence in their six yard box with a couple of minutes left.

The win gave home manager Kraig Vass his first over Thurso in eight

matches in charge of first Bonar Bridge and now Alness.

He said: “We had a lot of pressure and had plenty of chances to add to our lead.

“We’ve been working hard on our fitness this year and I expected us to finish strongly.

“But fair play to Thurso – they came back at us very strongly and we needed a really good save from Andrew at the end to protect our lead.”

Thurso – Sinclair, Stewart, Smith, Budge, M.Sutherland, Begg (MacGregor 75), Shearer (Wares 60), Wann, Petrie, Bremner, Harrold. Sub (unused) – Trueman.

Alness United – Maitland, Bremner, Pearce, Morton (Campbell 67), MacDonald (Steven Murray 70), Sutherland, Munro, MacLeod (MacAskill 70), Graham, Stuart Murray, Robertson.

Ref – Mr G. Dearie.