Formartine United’s hopes of landing their first Highland League championship were swamped at a rain-deluged North Lodge Park on Saturday.
The Pitmedden side blinked first in the winner-takes-all showdown with Cove Rangers, who used their experience to claim the crown with a 2-0 win.
A single point was what was needed for Formartine to emerge as champions, but Cove, who required a win to clinch it, emerged – deservedly on the day – as champions for the third time in six seasons.
A huge crowd of 1,500 braved a downpour that varied from heavy to torrential to see a goal in each half from the Aberdeen side break United hearts.
The real difference between the two sides lay in the relative reliability of their defences – and in the end, Cove’s rearguard of Yule, Lawrie, Beagrie and Redford never put a foot wrong throughout, while Jeffrey, Stuart Smith, McKeown and Campbell never quite gelled as they sometimes have in the past.
The game started at the brisk tempo at which it was conducted throughout, and it was Cove who were the first to show.
A slick interchange between Johnston and Stott gave the big striker a sniff as he almost seized on a hasty passback, forcing Shearer to do just enough to avert the danger.
However, Cove took the lead in the ninth minute.
Lennox took a free kick in what at the time seemed fairly safe territory not far into the Formartine half. It was swung over to Watson, who flicked on to Beagrie, whose jump took him above home defenders before he headed home the goal that disconcerted Formartine as much as it served to settle Cove.
The game continued with Cove looking the smoother operators, working the ball patiently from back to front.
Formartine were battling away, however, and forced five corners before the visitors could win one in reply.
For the last ten minutes of the half, Formartine pressed enough to suggest that they might just shade an equaliser.
They tried in vain – Munro, Bagshaw, Park, Ewen and Napier had made runs at the home defence, but none of them was able to get into a decent shooting position, and Cove kept them more than comfortably at bay.
The rain eased slightly into the second half and Formartine continued to seek the equaliser that would put them back in pole position.
They again forced Cove back on their heels, but the visitors extended their lead in the 62 minute.
United defender Jeffrey was red-carded for hauling down Scully who was in on goal.
Stott took the penalty, which was initially blocked by Shearer, but he followed up to net the rebound.
The goal and the ordering off proved to be a double blow to the home side, who never recovered from this – and Cove would run out as comfortable winners.
A recent collapse in Formartine home form, only one point out of a possible nine in their last three games, was probably predictable given their massive fixture backlog since February.
They must still reflect, through whatever disappointment they will feel, that their achievement has taken the club to the highest position it has occupied in its 65 year history.
Formartine United: Shearer, Jeffrey, S.Smith, McKeown, M.Smith, Campbell, Munro, Bagshaw, Park, Ewen, Napier. Subs: Webster, Soane, Wilson, Robertson, Donald.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, Yule, Lawrie, Beagrie, Redford, Watson, Lennox, McBain, Johnston, Stott, Scully. Subs: Leyden, Henderson, Smith, Black, Capstick.