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.