Fort William made Formartine United fight hard for a 4-1 win at Claggan Park on Saturday.
United remain joint second with Brora Rangers, five points behind Cove Rangers who have maintained their 100% start and still have a game in hand.
Formartine boss Kris Hunter kept his promise to “freshen things up” after last Saturday’s narrow defeat by Cove. McKeown and McVitie were out injured and replaced by Axten and Michie while Keith, Dingwall and Masson were preferred to Wood, Barbour and Anderson.
The visitors went straight into attack and in the sixth minute Keith knocked a feed from Rodger to Lawson who drilled a hard, low drive between defenders. It looked net-bound until keeper Hunter produced a top-class save to touch the ball round the post.
But United did take the lead in the 14th minute when a Gauld shot was netbound and Keith nipped in to apply the last touch.
It was 2-0 in the 23rd minute when Masson controlled a Dingwall cross at the back post and clipped it neatly beyond the keeper.
The pattern of persistent Formartine pressure continued after the interval and the home keeper did well to keep his side in it with decent saves from Keith, Gauld, Rodger and Lawson.
However, the visitors were not to be denied and made it 3-0 in the 49th minute. Lawson fired home after a goalmouth melee caused by a high ball in from Rodger.
Five minutes later it was four when Rodger finished off a free-flowing move involving Lawson, Gauld and Keith.
Fort grabbed their consolation goal in the final minute through a lapse in concentration. Taylor got on the end of a Macleod cross to score with a superb diving header.
Next up for Formartine is a home Scottish Cup tie with Clyde on Saturday and it unlkely to be the same starting eleven to face Barry Ferguson’s men.
Fort William: Hunter (T), Macrae, Campbell, Moffat, Hardwick, Quigg, Broomfield, Foggo, McLeod, MacKintosh, Taylor. Substitutes: Fell, Lieder, MacPherson, Ellis, (T), MacLennan.
Formartine United: Reid, Michie, Smith, Axten, Crawford, Lawson, Rodger, Masson, Keith, Gauld, Dingwall. Substitutes: Wood, Anderson, Bagshaw, Berton, Thomson, MacDonald.