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.