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.