A late equaliser by Neil McVitie salvaged a point for Formartine United in a 1-1 derby draw with Inverurie Locos at North Lodge Park on Saturday.
It means United go into the New Year at the top of the table with Brora Rangers hard on their heels - a point behind but with two games in hand.
The early stages saw Locos generally running the show in the middle of the park with captain Neil MacLean pulling the strings, while Formartine were a bit more direct in offering just as much pressure in the visitors’ final third.
After twenty minutes of play United had six corners to the Locos two. In the eighth minute Formartine managed three corners in quick succession, the second of which forced keeper Reid into touching a McKeown header over the top.
Even then there was a sense that defences were generally going to be on top on a day in which a blustery wind appeared to favour the home side in the first half.
In fact it did them few favours as they struggled to adapt when midfield often overhit the ball in the wind and regularly failed to find their strikers.
A Donaldson drive from 25 yards out was superbly saved by Shearer. At the other end, Formartine’s main goal threat seemed to lie with Ewen and he did well several times to get himself into position to have a shot, but last ditch tackles from Adams and Begg denied him as did a good save from Reid.
Locos took the lead straight from the second half kick-off. Maitland broke in from the left and rattled a drive off the crossbar. Bavidge reacted first to net the rebound.
Formartine upped the pressure as they went for an equaliser and managed to turn things around to the extent that more and more of the game was being played in Locos territory with the visitors relying increasingly on breakaways.
However, they had to wait until the 83rd minute before drawing level. Bagshaw worked a one-two with the strong-running Mike Ewen and slipped the ball across to McVitie, who had made a perfectly timed run to the back post, collected the ball and slipped it neatly beyond Reid.
As both sides went in search of the winner Clark was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Leyden.
Formartine battled well enough to get a share of the points but for a team with title aspirations it was exactly the sort of the game they had to win. And next up is the second instalment of this festive double-header at Harlaw Park on Saturday.
Formartine United: Shearer, Munro, Smith, McKeown, Campbell, Clark, Park, McVitie, Keith, Ewen, Hamill. Substitutes: Napier, Bagshaw, Jeffrey, Davidson, Doak.
Inverurie Loco Works: Reid, Maclean, Forsyth, Begg, Adams, Anderson, Donaldson, Young, Gauld, Bavidge, Maitland. Substitutes: Mathieson, Ross, Leydon, Souter, Mitchell.