Formartine United fell five points behind in the title race when league leaders Cove Rangers won 1-0 at North Lodge Park on Saturday.
The Aberdeen side, still with a game in hand, maintained their 100% record at the top but Formartine can take much from a game in which they matched their opponents in most aspects, exceeded them in some but crucially lacked the street-wise qualities that the older Cove players had in abundance.
We’re three months into a project here and it’s not going to happen overnightKris Hunter Formartine Utd Manager
It was that sort of nous that was the difference between winning and losing this high stakes encounter.
United manager Kris Hunter said: “There’s still a long way to go and there’s difficult games for us and Cove coming up.
“Today was a disappointment especially with the quality of players we have here but overall I’m proud of what our players have achieved.
“We’re three months into a project here and it’s not going to happen overnight, but we’ll be in the hunt come April.”
Cove started at full throttle in an attempt to steamroller their hosts as a swift move spearheaded by Scully invaded the left side of United territory but a crunching tackle from Stuart Smith averted any danger.
However, it was Formartine who came close to opening the scoring in the eighth minute.
A quick break down the right started by McVitie found Rodger who threaded his pass to Barbour who fired in a vicious drive which seemed netbound but struck the inside of the post and was scrambled clear.
The pattern continued with United increasingly occupying the visitors’ territory.
There was no doubt that Formartine were giving at least as good as they got and were asking a number of questions.
A 28th minute Kelly free kick was tipped over by Reid. At the other end, a free-flowing move involving Anderson, Lawson and Rodger got the ball to Barbour’s feet at the edge of the box but his shot on the turn was blocked by Yule and cleared.
The rest of the first half passed with Formartine pressing the area between the halfway line and the edge of the Cove box, but not able to breach the rearguard.
Cove won the game in the 54th minute with a stunningly-executed breakaway goal.
Scully moved the ball quickly through to Daryl Nicol and from 25 yards he launched a ferocious dipping drive into the net. This was all it took to win the most crucial league game of the season so far.
Formartine kept trying but with Cove in all-out defensive mode, they simply lacked the means of unpicking the defensive lock the Aberdeen men had now imposed.
Cove simply kept seven or eight behind the ball and protected the final third jealously enough to close out the game.
Formartine United: Reid, McVitie, Smith, McKeown, Crawford, Lawson, Rodger, Anderson, Wood, Masson, Barbour. Substitutes: Dingwall, Gauld, Michie, Axten, Keith, Bagshaw, MacDonald.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, Redford, Walker, Yule, Watson, Kelly, Scully, Park, Nicol, J Smith, S Smith. Substitutes: Watt, Burnett, Milne, McBain, Lawrie, Duff, McCafferty.