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.