Wick Academy 3 - Formartine United 1
The hurl up through the blasts birlin’ over the Berriedale Braes to Wick is seldom a barrel of laughs but the return after a fair old beating at Harmsworth Park feels more like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. This injury ridden Formartine side had a makeshift look to it: the recently restored midfield pairing of Soane and Macaulay was broken by the sudden and severe illness that has left livewire midfielder Kyle Macaulay in a hospital bed. Bobby Mann had failed a late fitness test and Callum Bagshaw was likewise sidelined with an undisclosed injury. The one glimmer of hope for the visitors was the debut of new signing Daniel Park In the event, this looked more like a triumph of hope over expectation as the young former Caley Thistle starlet who has barely kicked a ball at Cove this season looked well short of match sharpness and was replaced early into the second half.
The game began with the Scorries playing down the slope with a gale at their backs and almost inevitably they were the first get at their opponents’ rearguard. After pinning Formartine into their own quarters for most of the opening ten minutes, Wick tried to tighten the screw with a well worked move. A Stephen throw in on the right about twenty five yards out from the Formartine by line swirled over with the wind to be met by Cunningham whose fierce drive from the edge of the box was well held by Soutar.
The pattern of play persisted in pretty much the same way as periods of persistent home pressure were interspersed by the odd breakaway from Formartine patiently battling their way up the brae into teeth of the gale. Cunningham was pulling a fair few strings in midfield and swinging the ball into wide areas testing and stretching the visiting defenders. In the twenty fifth minute he played in the super-slick Sam Mackay who let fly with a venomous from a yard or two inside the box. Soutar produced a breath-taking reflex save to nudge the ball from its otherwise net-bound course, over the top for an unrewarded corner.
This seemed to energise his colleagues whose forays into the high ground of home territory were rising in frequency and seriousness of intent. A slick one two between the highly industrious Soane and Mackay ended with a reasonable if rather hesitant shot on target from the latter. This was turned round the post by keeper Gray for the first of two corners, both on the right. It was the first that carried the menace. Robertson struck it out - swingining to Soane who had muscled his way clear of Farquhar at the back post and headed goalwards and well beyond the reach of Gray. Midfielder Allan was however able to somehow hack it away for a second, fruitless corner.
It was just beginning to look like Formartine were beginning to believe that they could hold out with a clean sheet until the interval whereafter they would be well placed to exploit the advantages of wind and slope. That hope was severely dented ten minutes the scheduled break. A floated through ball by Shearer bounced over the head of Stuart Smith leaving Allan free at the edge of the box. Mark Smith got himself between player and ball for an obviously illegal challenge barely, but visibly, just outside the box. This was clearly not a “last man” challenge [Robertson was advancing on the forward from within the area] and given that Allan was pursuing rather than in possession of the ball the decision that he had been denied a clear goal scoring opportunity seemed, to some, spurious.
Ref Watt was certain that it was and immediately produced the red card that signalled the dismissal of the height and muscle at the heart of the Formartine defence. To his credit “Rusty” accepted the decision without demur. Formartine hung grimly on for not only the remaining ten minutes of scheduled time but also the additional seven minutes that the ref had found from some mysterious source.
The main question that the second period posed was whether the wind and slope advantage that now fell to Formartine would be enough to offset the deficit of losing the lynch pin at the heart of their defence. The answer was almost immediate. In the second minute of the second half, Cunningham ran at the centre of the visitors’ defence and found in the absence of the red carded Smith that its central area was just a tad soft. As they parted to check the runners, he had plenty time and space to thread the ball through to ALLAN who had the time and space to simply slot the ball past the right hand of the cruelly exposed Souter. Wick ,[ and everyone else] could see the Formartine frailty and set about exploiting it.
Within another couple of minutes, they did it again. The move was similar even if the personnel were different. The quick and tricky MacAdie set this one up. Moving in from the left, he ran at the heart of the North Lodgers’ defence and, like the Red Sea did for Moses, it parted at his will. He threaded the ball through to the impressive Shearer who drew Souter and slotted the ball home for number two.
This did not, as might reasonably have been assumed, signal the opening of a goal fest for Wick and the rout of the visitors. Instead they tried gamely to claw their back into. Almost inevitably it was SOANE who showed the way. By sheer grit and determination he ran down a pass from Steven intended for Allan and working the ball a few yards forward let fly from thirty yards out with an absolute screamer of a wind assisted thunderbolt that found the back of the net past a shell-shocked Gray to haul one back and offer his side a bit of a lifeline.
This ten minute flurry of goals was not yet over and Wick again went looking for the soft underbelly of the visitors’ central defence. Sensibly they kept moving the ball about smartly making full use of the wider areas and stretching the depleted visiting ranks with the pace and slippery mobility of MacAdie, MacKay and Allan. Predictably their third goal again came through the central area. This time the route was more direct: a longish through ball from Farquhar was picked up by Mackay who had the legs on the visiting defenders, got into the area and skelped the ball past Soutar for Wick’s third and final goal of the afternoon.
Formartine’s affection for ref Watt was further compromised in the 70th minute when McGinlay who had got onto the end of neat inside ball from Mackay was tripped in the box. Formartine claims for a penalty looked strong but sadly not strong enough to influence the implacable ref who peremptorily waved them aside. Still the Formartine heads did not go down but they were left chasing a game that was pretty well beyond them. One bright spot was the contribution of young Will Mathers who not only ran his heart out after he replaced Park for the last twenty minutes, but showed some cute touches and decent vision in the process.
From a Formartine perspective the best that could be said was that they coped reasonably well in almost impossible conditions. Prior to losing influential defender “Rusty” Smith, they looked like they were weathering the storm and anticipating wind and slope advantage for the second period were in a decent position from which to kick on and win. Their defensive frailties were a result of depleted personnel than anything else and they displayed, for the most part a decent spirit and application throughout. Wick, it must be said, look increasingly like title contenders in the making: they have an abundance of pace and skill throughout the side and although perhaps a tad short of height and muscle through the middle, play incisive enough football to threaten any side in SHFL.
Wick Academy: Gray, M.Steven, Sinclair, Farquhar, G.Steven, Shearer, Cunningham, MacKay, D. Allan, MacAdie, R.Allan. Subs: Weir, Manson, Ross, Gunn, Bokas.
Formartine United: Soutar Davidson, S.Smith, Robetson,M. Smith, McVittie, Park, Soane, Mackay, McGinlay, A.Bagshaw. Subs: Stephen, Mathers, Mann, McCaffrey.