FORMARTINE United kept their title challenge on course - but left it very late at Lossiemouth on Saturday.
A goal two minutes from time from substitute Callum Dingwall gave the Pitmedden side a hard-fought victory at Grant Park.
It was a less than convincing performance by Formartine. They played well enough for the first and last fifteen minute spells but lost their way for the better part of the hour in between.
Overall the match looked like one between two mid-table sides rather than an encounter between teams at opposite ends of it. Lossie will feel that their efforts on the day deserved at least a point while the Formartine faithful will take some comfort that when their favourites needed to find another gear -after Lossie levelled the game with less than fifteen minutes remaining - it was there and they were able to drive on to win.
Conditions were bright and windless and with a pitch in splendid condition, the stage was set for what should have been a better game than the one that was ultimately delivered.
The Formartine side was along familiar lines but with one crucial difference, midfield dynamo McVittie was unavailable through injury and replaced by Soane returning from a lengthy period of inaction.
It was consistent with the run of play when the visitors opened their account in the 12th minute.
Bagshaw whipped the ball diagonally across the box to meet the late and immaculately judged run by Ewen. The free-scoring striker, killed the ball calculated his angles and slammed it well beyond the reach of the keepers’ outstretched left arm.
Although Formartine were still pressing forward, there was no sense that home floodgates were in danger of being opened. Instead Davidson did manage to get in behind the visiting rearguard on the end of a cleverly clipped ball from Wardrop. He snatched a bit at the shot and Shearer having narrowed the angle well, was able to drop onto the ball and end the threat.
The more the half progressed, the more comfortable the home side looked. Their share of possession crept relentlessly up and by the mid point of the period, they were giving as good as they were getting in most areas of the pitch.
Stables and Archibald were quietly industrious in midfield and did well in stifling Munro and Soane and in the process, managed to restrict the volume and quality of supply to the front pair of Park, who never really looked comfortable throughout, and Ewen. The latter might have put his side in a much stronger position when he broke into the box in the 38th minute and hit a sweet drive that looked set to beat the keeper before it deflected from a knee and went to the hands of the relieved Errol Watson
By half time although there was no real threat to the Formartine goal, it was increasingly apparent that they would have to get a better grip of midfield if they were to extend their lead. Common sense also dictated that a single goal lead away from home was always going to be a fragile one.
The second half began with Lossie not only exerting, but more importantly managing to sustain periods of pressure on the Formartine rearguard. In general, they looked the more likely to score while Formartine seemed increasingly devoid of ideas and began to look as if they believed that going through the motions would, in itself, be enough to ensure victory. The more apparent this became, the more obvious it was that Lossie were capable of, indeed likely to produce, an equaliser.
Manager Steve Paterson could see the danger and brought on Robertson for Soane as early as the 62nd minute but the initiative remained with Lossie and they eventually equalised in the 74th minute.
It took a slip from the normally reliable “Rusty” Smith to create the conditions for it. Stables managed to get past him in the inside right channel and slung the ball right across the area to substitute Main whose unchecked run into the box left him with enough time and space to sweep the ball well beyond the reach of Shearer to level the game
This set the Formartine alarm bells ringing and they immediately shed their lethargy.
There was always the chance of a home breakaway, but the severity of the onslaught was enough to prevent this.
With two minutes remaining, the victory was ensured by a bit of composure from substitute Callum Dingwall. With the ball bobbling on the edge of the box, he picked up a half-hit clearance and with a superb turn and shot put the ball deliberately and very precisely between the range of the keeper and his left upright. Formartine then kept the ball safely in wide areas to run down what little time was left on the clock.
These were three hard-won points, Formartine’s main redeeming feature in a very patchy performance was their reaction to the equaliser. However the fact that they got into that position in the first place and the means by which it came to be must cause concern as neither is consistent with serious title aspirations.
Lossiemouth: Watson, A.Ross, Wilson, C.Ross, Mitchell, Flett, Stables, Archibald, Wardrop, Davidson, Millar. Subs: Davidson, Horsburgh, Main , McIntosh, Smith.
Formartine United: Shearer, Donald, S.Smith, McKeown, M.Smith, Bagshaw, Munro, Soane, Park, Ewen, Webster. Subs: Napier, Dingwall, Robertson, Davidson, McGinlay