Just as it looked like they had turned a corner, found a vein of form and were getting back to their best Formartine again revealed a fatal level of inconsistency which stopped their four game winning run stone dead in its tracks. In fact it is beginning to look like they have developed a new sort of consistency which is that of consistently under-performing against less fancied teams.
This was a re-scheduled league game and with no other SHFL activity this mid-week looked like the ideal opportunity to make inroads on the number of games they hold in hand over most of the teams above them and start to climb the league. To do that they had of course to beat Keith at home, the team that they had demolished 5-0 away in the opening game of the season. Times have changed.
United started this one with a squad that looked familiar but with an unusual deployment in what looked like a 3-1-5-1 formation with manager Lawson playing a deep-lying playmaker role in front of a back three of Kelly, Smith and McKeown. Gethins led the line up top for his second start of the week.
The game started at fair pace – as much like a cup tie as a league game and it didn't take long for it to become clear that Keith were prepared to work very hard on and off the ball for each other, prepared to chase and harry United at every turn. That said United did look initially to be well organised, quite composed and were moving the ball about quickly and accurately with Rodger, Lisle and Park all making threatening moves in and around the visitors box. A smart interchange between Rodger and Lisle ended with a tightish angled drive from the latter whizzing past Dey's left post in the 7th minute and break into the box by Park yielded a low driven right to, left cross that caused a fair stooshie around the back post before Robertson managed to hoof it into touch.
Keith were sharp on the counter and both MacDonald and MacAskill found enough space in the three manhome defence to get in shots that demanded Main to make decent saves. In the 10th minute following a break down the left that forced a corner on that side which MacAskill swung over to the back post area and in a flurry of panicky activity the ball broke to BROWNIE who banged past Main.
That was definitely not part of the United game plan and a confidence transfer from the home to the away side was soon apparent. Keith were energised enough by the goal to sustain a few quick and dangerous thrusts at a United rearguard which looked much less reliable in a three than its normal four and with the pace and trickery of MacAskill, Selfridge and MacDonald there were a few moments when United looked in danger of going further behind. The most threatening of them came about 5 minutes after the goal when MacDonald dribbled his way into the box evaded two tackles delivered a vicious shot that Main managed to parry, got the ball back cheaply amongst defensive confusion and offloaded a crafty wee drive that Main did superbly well to push away from the base of his right upright for a corner.
The second half saw an initially more settled United playing a more conventional back four with Lawson operating as a conventional right back. They sustained fairly consistent pressure on Keith and within ten minutes of the resumption they equalised. McKeown mopped up the aftermath of a Keith break and threaded the ball down the inside left channel to LEYDEN who was offf at pace towards the left corner of the Keith penalty box. Grant moved to challenge him but he slipped a half step wide and as the keeper moved to close him down he banged the ball home from about 12 yards out. That should have settled United and perhaps to an extent it did but Keith were still well up for this game and although at this stage – around the hour mark were playing off the back foot – they were a genuine threat on the break and were with real spirit and energy winning a good share of second balls. No surprise then when in the 66th minute a breakaway started by full back Smith pushing on down the flank before feeding MacDONALD near the right corner of the box from where he struck an elegant curling shot over Main to the far corner of the net.
United can't be faulted for any lack of fighting qualities as they set about turning the game around. They pressed, they brought on subs and over the last ten minutes or so they even advanced keeper Main to near the half way line in an attempt to get something back from a game which now lost means that their best hopes for a position by the end of the season look more like top 6 than anything better. Perhaps they under-estimated Keith but whether they did or not they simply did not have what was needed to push on from a 55th minute equaliser and win a game that was crucial to their league campaign.
Formartine United: Main, Kelly, Smith (Norris 74),Lawson (McGowan 81), McKeown, Lawrence, Rodger, Lisle Gethins, Leyden (Greig 66). Subs: Crawford, Anderson, Norris, Greig, McGowan, Watson.
Keith: Dey, Grant, Smith, Spink, Robertson, Young, MacAskill, Brownie, Keith (Berton 90), Selfridge (Thomson 67), MacDonald Subs: Yeats, MacAllister, Gray, Thomson, Scott, Berton, Simpson.