This was the last game of a season that started with Formartine being tipped to be winners and finished off the pace in fourth position. A season with 6 defeats and the same number of draws is well short of the standard needed to win the SHFL. No team can drop points in over a third of the games it plays and hope to win a league.
Anyone who watched this game would have found it easy to discern the root cause of the team's woeful tendency to shed points often against teams from much further down the table than themselves. Difficult to believe, but it does look like that amongst this squad of professional players there are several with a recurring tendency to underestimate the standard of the opposition that faces them and underperform accordingly. This was the last game of the season; they knew it and many looked like they were simply going through the motions and when that happens, the operant word has to be motions. The games against Huntly, Strathspey, Rothes (twice) Wick, Forres and Buckie all seemed to show that tendency.
OK, luck plays a part and there were times when Nairn rode theirs like a punter on a dude ranch bronco, but in the end you make your own luck in this game and for far too many passages of this one United weren't playing with the energy, passion or conviction needed to force fortune to swing their way. Overall Nairn deserved their win, they were well organised and well up for it. They didn't seem to have any players of outstanding quality, but had the discipline energy and appetite needed to beat United. They were decently organised and kept their shape quite well too but they were a team from the bottom third of the table and the long and short of it is that United should be embarrassed by their failure to beat them.
United started reasonably well with a bit of a push down the left flank initiated by Lawrence who got the ball forward to Greig. The winger got it to the left edge of the box, tried a couple of tricks but was soon crowded out and then dispossessed. United sustained a bit of squeeze on the home final third with Rodger and Gethins both attempting shots from the 18 yard area only for them to be blocked by one of about seven home players defending in the box. Even this early, it was clear that United were going to have to work hard to break down close marking and dogged defending. With Garry Wood re-assigned to defensive duties they were short on height up top.
Nairn could break at pace and in the tenth minute following a mighty clearance by keeper Kendall was taken neatly by Gregg Main and threaded through to Shewan who let fly with a fierce 18 yard drive that Main was at full stretch to push past the left upright. This seemed to perk up County who then tried to sustain a bit of pressure round the United box but were frustrated in attempts to sustain it mostly by McKeown. However they carved out a bit of a chance after working the ball from right to centre, back again and then left for Shewan to test Main from left of the penalty spot. The save was comfortably made.
Things were settling down to a bit of a midfield tussle until in the 22nd minute Formartine began to ramp up the pressure a bit. A Greig ball in from the left bobbled in a group of players of both persuasions before Gethins pinged it into the net for what most thought was a goal. However the standside linesman and ref Northcroft thought otherwise and awarded a free kick for off side. United were pressing quite hard by this point but also meeting dogged resistance. Struggling to get the ball into a crowded box they were tending to shoot from distance and drives from twenty yard (ish) range by Rodger, McGowan and Mackintosh all went high, wide or both. Both Greig and Leyden were prepared to try dribbling their way into shooting positions within the box but were usually frustrated by the serried ranks of Nairn defenders. In the 34th minute Greig, twisting and turning trying wriggle into some space, left centre of the box was brought down by Dingwall. Taking the penalty himself. “Chubbs” struck it hard, low and well to the keeper's left only to find that Kendall had second guessed him to make a superb save right at the base of his left upright.
Thus encouraged Nairn went on the hunt for a quick goal before the interval but aside from a Greig Main free from 25 yards out and a bit right of centre that flew not far wide of the left stick they couldn't get any closer.
Formartine made a wee token push at the start of the second period and were immediately caught on the rebound by a Nairn break that ended with a cross over the goal face by Main that the diving Shewan failed by centimetres to get a his head to. Formartine were doing what they could to get on top of their hosts but found the 4-5-1 they faced hard to get traction from in midfield. Territory and possession were fairly even but Nairn were probably winning a bit more than an even share of second balls.
The nearest the game got to a goal by this stage came in the 53rd minute when a Leyden ball right to left along the 6 yard line was barely an inch too far for Gethins to get his left boot to. A sweeping move by United that developed on the right involved, in order Mackintosh, Rodger and McGowan got the ball over to Greig who had reached the left edge of the 6 yard area. However he was uber cautious in setting himself for the shot and Glenn Main had time to block it.
In the 65th minute, a minute or two of United pressure gave way to a quick counter down the left when Kenny Mackenzie took off at pace down the left flank to feed Ramsay. McKeown was quickly on his case but slipped as he started the tackle. Ramsay was quick enough to seize the moment and clip the ball inside for PORRITT. The lanky striker advanced about ten or fifteen yards before lashing it past the left hand of MAIN from a yard or two inside the box.
The Formartine fat was fairly in the fire now. Apart from being a goal down they didn't really look like they had the momentum needed to grind out a result from there. They pressed a bit but didn't really generate sustained pressure – it was more episodic – bits here and there but nothing that pinned Nairn back for any length of time. United had their moments but the nearest they got was one off the upright by Gethins in the 81st minute. Rodger and McGowan had managed to get the ball to the right side of the box and from there to Gethins. The striker, from a tight angle and with the keeper advancing managed to clip the ball over him only to see it rebound from the base of the near post of a completely empty goal. A thump over the top by Mackintosh and a Wood header saved by Man of the Match Kendall were worthy enough attempts but too little, too late.
Nairn County: Kendall, MacDonald,K. Mackenzie, MacLennan, Glenn Main, Dingwall, Ewan, Ramsay, Porritt (Dey 95), Greig Main, Shewan. Subs: D. Mackenzie, Dey, Ednie, Naismith, MacLean (MacKenzie 65).
Formartine United: Main, Crawford, Lawrence, Wood, McKeown, Mackintosh, McGowan, Rodger, Gethins, Leyden, Greig (Norris 76). Subs: J.Anderson, S.Anderson, Norris, Lawson, Smith, MacDonald