For title chasing Cove, this was a must win: for injury ravaged and under-performing Formartine, most would have called it a can’t win. The fact that this was precisely what transpired belies significantly the turn of events that produced the sadly predictable outcome. For the first half, Formartine gave largely as good as they got before under some determined pressure from the visitors in the second period, they revealed their familiar fondant soft centre and a breakdown in discipline that led to their finishing the match with only nine players on the park.
With central defender Campbell and influential attacking midfielder Kyle Macaulay missing through injury and illness respectively, Formartine were not best equipped to face a team from whom they have yet to collect a single SHFL point. For most of the first half they looked as if they were going to buck that trend, playing with decent shape and doing well to work the ball efficiently from back to front. Cove started with a brisk, determined opening flurry that as early as the second minute forced a desperate, but successful goal line clearance by “Titch” Davidson from an otherwise net-bound, close range effort by Emslie following a Scully corner on the right.
Danger averted, Formartine started to probe away at the visitors’ rearguard and forced a corner at each side in the space of a couple of minutes. Seven minutes in McGinlay’s heels were clipped as he tried to insinuate his way into the box yielding a free kick two yards outside, left centre, of the area bang in what is known as Bobby Mann territory. The gargantuan central defender eyed up his options, measured his range and launched a swerving drive that just cleared the junction of crossbar and upright.
Cove looked fluent in midfield with Beagrie, Emslie and Scully linking slickly with each other. Formartine’s Bagshaw, Soane and McGinlay were also doing quite well and with former Cove forward Dan Park, making his home debut there was never an issue about motivation. Following a decent wee spell of home pressure Formartine forced a corner on the right. Robertson’s in-swinging ball bobbled around near the back post and under pressure from the home forwards, Cove struggled to clear. In the third phase of play after the corner, the ball was hacked away no further than the alert SOANE to the right of the penalty spot. With consummate precision he skelped the ball past the advancing defenders and well beyond the reach of keeper McKenzie for a tenth minute opener.
Inevitably this forced increased pressure from Cove who began to gain the upper hand in terms of possession and to an extent, territorially. However for all their possession they visibly struggled to penetrate a well organised home rearguard of Davidson, Robertson, Mann and Stuart Smith who seemed to be coping well with whatever Cove put their way. Although the bulk of the play was in Formartine territory, they still looked at least as likely as the visitors to get the ball into the net. In the 29th minute, a perfectly judged diagonal ball from Callum Bagshaw reached its intended target of Mackay’s head but the captain’s header was just a few inches high and wide of target. Almost immediately thereafter the slightly hirpling midfielder was withdrawn to be replaced by Stephen. This was a serious blow to the home side as the recently transfer listed wide man showed as much interest in proceedings as a haddock has in hot pants and the visitors’ grip on midfield tightened further. Formartine did well however, largely through the efforts of the back four, to keep Cove at bay until the interval. Formartine still mustered the odd breakaway and in the process showed that they still continued to carry significant menace. Park’s pace was a significant asset and despite Cove having more possession, Formartine gained more meaningful pressure in terms of corners won and the home side’s speedy breaks were enough to rattle if not breach the visiting rearguard. A Soane drive from the edge of the area was blocked by Watson and a wickedly in-swinging corner from Robertson was just clawed away from the top corner by a full stretch McKenzie. The best chance that Cove had of a first half equaliser came in the 43rd minute when a cutely threaded through ball from Emslie set up Leyden on the edge of the box. His shot was firmly struck but marginally too high.
Cove came out for the second period, looking well fired up and immediately took the game to Formartine.
Although there did not seem to be any change to personnel or system, they looked a much more potent force than they had. Beagrie harried Mann and although unable to get the ball beyond him forced a mis-hit clearance almost directly to the feet of Emslie. He dropped his left shoulder and volleyed the ball way beyond the reach of Souter to the far corner of the net to equalise.
The situation now called for more blood and guts than Formartine were prepared to provide and Cove continued to hammer away at their rearguard. With Stephen a virtual passenger, it was almost as if Formartine were a man short already. McVittie who had been booked in the first half, felled Scully a yard out from front right corner of the box and picked up the second booking that further depleted the home ranks on his dismissal. This swung the odds entirely in Cove’s favour. They continued to force their way forward and the home defence rode their luck like a buckaroo until the 70th minute when a cute threaded ball by full back Lawrie left Emslie in space twenty five yards out. He struck the ball with such force that only the strength of the netting prevented it reaching the centre of Pitmedden.
It was one way traffic by this stage and Cove exploiting the reduced home numbers, brought on Singer to continually stretch the game into wide areas further harrying the defence. Singer has every trick in the book and was clearly able to wind up anyone trying to mark him. This fell to Robertson who, when the ball was out of play, made what looked like a physical response to verbal pressure and pushed the winger who went spectacularly down. Ref McNab awarded an immediate straight red and Formartine were reduced to nine bodies and given the feckless contribution of Stephen, eight active participants.
Formartine can take some comfort from the fact that in the ten remaining minutes they conceded only one more goal. This came three minutes from time. Sub Stott got in one on one with Souter but the big home keeper managed to parry his fiercely struck first attempt. The ball however went straight back to the sub who succeeded with his second attempt in sealing the final score and restoring his side’s credentials as serious title contenders.