From a Formartine perspective, winning this game would neither raise nor lower their final league position while the effect of losing would be precisely the reverse. Their campaign ends with two games hence and no matter what, they will complete this season in fourth position. Huntly, under relatively new management have hit a bit of form lately with three wins and a draw from their last four outings and having been a bit of a bogey side for United in recent years, looked like they had a decent chance of taking points in this one. Either a lot of people shared that view or someone behind the scenes at Strathbogie had done an impressive sales job because there was a whole marquee full of corporate hospitality guests and the stand was gie near full.
However, whatever spin you put on it, this game had end of season fare writ large upon it before a ball was kicked. What was most at stake was professional pride and maybe, despite the odds against it, there was just enough of that around for it to have won through at the end of the day. The fact that the game ended scoreless can be attributed more to an outstanding display by the home keeper in the difficult conditions of a strongish, gusting wind and a hard, bobbly playing surface, than lack of competitive interest from the other 21 players. United had rung the changes since their cup final defeat at the hands of Cove Rangers. Stuart, Smith, Aaron Norris, Archie MacPhee and Andrew Greig dropped to the bench while Jevan Anderson, Connor Gethins, Jordan Leyden and Gary McGowan started.
There was also the interesting sub-text of United's recent signing, Gary McGowan returning for the first time to Christie Park since swapping allegiance about a month back. In the event he was the target of some less than affectionate treatment at the hands of former colleagues - particularly Thoirs and Still. McGoo is a seasoned campaigner, well able to look after himself albeit the 70 minutes he remained on the park was about as much as could reasonably have been asked of him. Ironically he lasted longer than Thoirs who hirpled off in the 52nd minute after an attempt to kick Gary Wood went awry.
Both sides struggled initially to judge the effects of the wind the direction of which gave some advantage to the home side. Both had a tendency to over-hit balls forward with Huntly regularly under-estimating the wind strength and Formartine over estimating it. It was a day for keeping the ball on the deck. Huntly managed to do so when Thoirs played the ball through the centre to MacDonald who had a brief glimpse of goal from about twenty five yards out before Lawrence outpaced him to nick it away and start a counter attack down the left side. This was ended by a rather agricultural tackle by Thoirs on McGowan about twenty five yards out roughly in line with the left corner of the box. The victim struck the ensuing free himself but the shot was too direct, the wall stood firm, and the ball rebounded to safety.
Ten minutes in and Formartine, keeping the ball generally low and passes generally short began to probe for weaknesses in the home defence. They got the ball into the box as Rodger broke through the inside left channel and splitting Clark and McRitchie drilled the ball from a tight angle into a crowded goalmouth only to see it spin off the right boot of McRitchie to Leyden lurking just outside the box. His shot entered a thicket of legs from which it took some time to emerge, eventually bobbling its way out of play harmlessly wide right of goal.
United were getting just the better of Huntly as far as territory and possession were concerned and in the 18th minute Lawrence and McGowan combined to get the ball to Gethins on the left side of the box. Squeezed by a swarm of defenders he was too near the bye line for his ten yard shot to have much chance and it hit the side netting a few inches behind the near post.
Crawford, breaking from the back, fed Gethins who slipped the ball onto McGowan who had a run through the middle to reach it and deliver a thumping 20 yard drive that brought a spectacular diving save as Reid threw himself left to push the ball away to safety in the 21st minute. In the 26th minute Stuart Anderson looking to pick up scraps not far out of the Huntly box latched onto a miscued clearance by Clark and with some delicacy and precision tried to clip the ball home, but he had the on form Reid to contend with and the keeper, anticipating the location of the shot got in place to make a good save that a flashier keeper would have made a meal of. Good shot, good save.
The wind was still gusting and play was rarely fluent for long, but the best chance up to then came in the 30th minute when in the aftermath of a corner on the left, the ball broke to McRitchie who let fly with a thumper of a twenty yard drive that Main just got enough on to nudge round his left upright for a corner.
As the interval approached United stepped up the pace a bit but were soon bogged down in an overcrowded final third. They persevered a bit in a push to get their noses in front before the interval. The nearest they got came was when a shot from Rodger was blocked by the keeper's foot and rebounded to Leyden whose shot was blocked at the base of his right upright again by the keeper. However it all faded quite soon and Huntly managed to find the odd bit of pace behind the pressing United midfield and forwards whose backline had also advanced to around half way. Ross got in on this and approaching the United box with MacDonald inside him on the right, found his partner too short of pace to reach the ball he provided and McKeown simply and effectively mopped up.
With some assistance from the wind behind their right shoulders in the second half Formartine had a fair go at trying to win the game. The fact that they didn't was partly down to a lack of fluency on their part but mostly a result of dogged defending by the home side. It was a phase of the game where defences were on top and creativity was at a premium. United had more of the ball but eager to play repeated square balls in attempt to lure Huntly out, they made limited headway because Huntly simply weren't biting. The game as a spectacle was dying but revived somewhat once the subs came on. United introduced MacPhee and Greig for McGowan and Leyden and mounted a bit more sustained pressure. Shots from Wood and Rodger bought good saves from Reid in the 73rd and 77th minutes and United spent an increasing amount of time in the areas just outside the home penalty area. Their best effort was a fiercely struck shot on the turn by MacPhee near the end of “normal” time that had Reid at full stretch to push away two handed. The keeper was also down low to block a sneaky effort from a tight angle on the left from Greig, but by then, the game had a distinct sense that it was going to end up just as goal less as it did.
Huntly: Reid, Johnston, Clark, McRitchie, Murison, Still, Ross, Gray, McDonald, Manson (Jack 70), Thoirs (Andrews 52). Subs: Storrier, Jack, Sopel, Andrews, Ritchie, Davidson.
Formartine United: Main, Crawford, Lawrence, S.Anderson, McKeown, J.Anderson, McGowan (Greig] 70) Rodger, Wood, Gethins, Leyden (MacPhee 73). Subs: Smith, Norris, Burnett, Mackintosh, MacPhee, Greig, MacDonald