Match report – Thurso 0 v Alness United 2 – NCL – 24.8.13 – by Iain Grant
UNBEATEN at home in lifting the North Caledonian League title last season, the Vikings got their defence off to the worst possible start on Saturday as they meekly succumbed to visitors Alness.
While well ahead in the possession stakes, they failed to seriously trouble a well-organised rearguard and were vulnerable to lightning counters by the Easter Ross side.
Goals in either half allowed Tommy Regan’s men to emerge with three points to reprise the cup victory they secured late last season at the Dammies.
James Murray, who has been linked with a move to Wick Academy, was a surprise inclusion in the Thurso starting-line-up, spearheading the attack along with Marc MacGregor. Newcomers Robert Gunn and Scott Bell were on the bench while Eddie MacGregor made his first NCL start.
The latter was first to threaten for the Vikings when his shot from the edge of the box whistled wide on 25 minutes. Before then, home keeper Graeme Williamson had to look sharp to divert Daniel Lowe’s effort behind.
Alness forged in front when Williamson carelessly balked Caithness exile Tony Farquhar in the box and Craig Munro buried the spot-kick into the bottom left corner.
Ref Graham John was then to the fore, flourishing three yellow cards in the space of two minutes to Alness pair Niall Docherty (kicking ball away) and Farquhar (foul on Kyle Ross) and Ross (dissent.)
Murray missed what was to prove his side’s best chance of the afternoon when he headed wide when unmarked six yards out on 38 minutes. Shortly afterwards, Marc MacGregor’s shot was one of the few times that keeper Steven Hyslop was forced into serious action.
After the break, Thurso continued to see more of the ball while coming up short in the final third. While regularly pinned back, their opponents continued to look dangerous on the break.
Michael MacKenzie produced the first threat of the second half when his free kick on the edge of the D forced Williamson into a full-length dive to protect his goal.
Marc MacGregor was forced off on 65 minutes when an aerial clash with Robert MacAskill left him with a gash that needed treatment.
Alness grabbed a second on 53 minutes when Farquhar rose above his marker from a corner to direct a header past Williamson.
David Cowie looked Thurso’s best source of getting his side back in the game with some sparky breaks down the right flank. One cross after good hold-up play by Murray invitingly flashed across the goalmouth but found no takers. Cowie then manufactured a centre which Gunn was unable to divert on target.
The final opening in the last minute was created at the other end after Williamson got in a fankle after he received a pass back to the left of his penalty box. He was robbed by Mark Lamont who squared to fellow sub Liam Creighton. The latter took too long to compose himself and his would-be chipped finish shaved over the bar.
A third goal would have been gilding the lily but over the piece, few neutrals would gainsay the hard-working visitors deserved their victory.
Manager Regan said: “I thought we defended really well. Thurso had the bulk of the game but they didn’t cause us too many problems – I think our keeper only to make one real save
“We created a few chances and it was great to pick up three points up here, which is always a hard place to come to.”
Thurso – Williamson, Stewart (Elder 72), A. Sinclair, C. Sinclair, S. Forbes, K. Ross, D. Cowie, E. MacGregor (Gunn 60), Murray, M. MacGregor (Bell 70), Florence.
Alness United – Hyslop, Docherty (Muir 84), Stewart, Munro, MacAskill, McCormack, Graham, M. Farquhar, MacKenzie (Creighton 84),T. Farquhar, Lowe (Lamont 74).
Referee – Graham John.