Defeat itself was a big disappointment, the manner of it, painful. After matching Cove for the first half hour they found themselves trailing by two goals at the interval and lacked what was needed in terms of passion and guile to raise the tempo enough to get back into a game which, as time went on, got further and further away from them. To be fair, some players, particularly in the back four gave their all and produced worthy enough performances. So too Gary Wood who ploughed a rather lone furrow up front, but too many others struggled to get into or remain in the game enough to impose upon the reigning League Champions. Put bluntly, they were simply off the pace for too much of the game.
A bad day at the office you might say and exonerate a number of culprits on the basis that they have contributed well enough over the season as a whole, but that would miss the point that if they can't cope with a game where the stakes are as high as they were here, they are unlikely to give the club what it needs to achieve its undoubted ambitions.
Cove began with an injury free squad but United, lacking Jevan Anderson who suffered a “dead leg” in midweek and Scott Henry a long term injury victim, deployed captain Stuart Anderson as a sweeper to fill the gap in central defence these injuries produced. He is not only experienced in that role but also very good at it but deploying him there deprives the team of his hugely influential presence as a holding midfielder.
Within a minute of kick off Johnny Crawford went down – apparently out cold - from a head knock and needed a minute or two to recover. That sent ripples of fear through the United faithful. Cove were the first to make an impact after Milne all but played in Park with a ball that was intercepted by keeper Main. The ex-United forward tried to bundle the keeper and ball into the net but Main saw what was coming and stood his ground. In the 8th minute Milne and Strachan combined for the former to attempt a twenty five yard effort that went wide right. United were doing well enough at this point although most of what they did was between the boxes and when Wood, Norris, Greig or MacPhee got into the final third Cove were remarkably efficient at closing them down. Not only was the attacker with ball closely marked but so too anyone in range of receiving a pass from him. They looked even this early like they would be gie hard to penetrate.
United tried to press down the flanks with Greig on the left and Norris on the right, each supported by full backs Smith and Crawford respectively. This ploy regularly got the ball down the flanks and often enough near the corners but the Cove defence was tight enough to ensure that successful crosses into the box or goalmouth were few and far between. An exception to that was when Greig whipped in a hard low one that looked destined for the right foot of the advancing Wood, but was blocked by Yule only about 8 yards out. Some would say that had Wood's progress to the ball not been delayed by a yark at his jersey on the way, the ball would have hit the net. In the 18th minute Wood burst into the box from the left and laid the ball “on a plate” to Norris a few steps off the back stick but the young forward lacked the composure to connect with the ball and deliver it to the net – he missed it “a'thegither”. A minute later Greig broke through from the same side and came close from a very tight angle but his shot hit the side netting.
This period (midway through the first half) was probably United's best in the game. They forced two or three corners and did a bit with each. The first concluded with an 18 yard drive from Rodger that went over the top, one found the head of McKeown but the header spun away to safety and another found the big centre back in space twenty odd yards out but his powerfully struck drive rebounded from a forest of legs in the box.
At the other end Megginson had snapshot on the turn after a Park feed but Main saw it coming and made a comfortable save. From Main's clearance, the ball was worked up the left by Smith and Greig before being played into a very quickly over populated goal mouth. A stramash ensued and it looked like United, probably through Wood had managed to get the ball into the net before it popped back out again apparently propelled by Scully's mitt. United claims for a goal and, if not, a penalty were waved aside by the ref. They were strong claims.
United aggrieved pushed on and a couple of minutes later, in 29th minute they were awarded a free kick about 25 yards out and a shade left of centre. McKeown absolutely leathered the ball bang on line to reach the net about 5 feet off the deck and one inside the keeper's left upright. Mackenzie's diving save just let him finger tip it round the post for a corner. In the 32th minute Wood and MacPhee combined to set up Rodger with a fifteen yard shot but it went a foot or two wide left when he had only the keeper to beat.
United had reached the high point of their game and it began to swing inexorably Cove's way. Cove's opener followed a scrappy passage of play around the D in front of the United box. Eventually the ball was driven in by Yule but rebounded back to him and he managed to get into the box with it. With defenders swarming around him he released it to BURNETT who scooped the ball, quite delicately almost vertically over Main to drop into the net.
In stoppage time before the interval during a period of Cove pressure at the United end they put the game effectively beyond Formartine’s reach with a MEGGINSON goal. A shot by Yule, through a ruck of players, was blocked at the base of his left upright by Main. It looked like he had seen it late but he still got down in time to get a hand to it but was able only to parry it while the hyperactive striker reacted like an electronic mongoose and whipped the ball into the net from 3 or 4 yards out.
United needed to start the second half with a bang: they didn't: Cove wouldn't let them United huffed and puffed but long before the game reached the hour mark, Cove were calling the shots. Their tactic was simply to keep the ball for as long at a time as possible and frustrate United. They were better at the former than the latter. Formartine brought on Gethins in hope that his capacity to get a goal out of nothing would yield something to change things but Cove simply shut off the supply routes to him. The nearest United got to breaking through was after a Wood-Greig combo, MacPhee got the ball a bit left of the penalty spot and trying to chip the keeper beat him only for the ball to rebound to safety off the crossbar.
It wasn't quite a case of Cove running down the clock - it was longer term than that - but the effect over the last half hour was just the same and United failed to find a way to break out of that imposed constraint.
Cove Rangers: MacKenzie, Kelly, Milne, Scully, Ross, Strachan, Park, Yule, Megginson (McManus 85), Burnett (Scott 60), Masson. Subs: Watson, Redford, Scott, McManus, Brown, Campbell, McCafferty.
Formartine United: Main, Crawford, Smith, S.Anderson, McKeown, Lawrence, (Mackintosh 67), MacPhee, Rodger, Wood, Norris (Burnett 82) Greig (Gethins 72). Subs: MacPherson, Burnett, Lawson, Mackintosh, J.Anderson, Gethins, MacDonald