Football Times Cup first round
Golspie Sutherland 3, Inverness Athletic 3 (Athletic won 4-3 on penalties)
INVERNESS Athletic booked their place in the next round of the Football Times Cup after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory against Golspie Sutherland at King George V Park. Athletic led 3-0 with 11 minutes to go but Golspie hit back with three goals, including a late penalty, to force a sudden death decider.
The Inverness side travelled north with a skeleton squad due to injuries and covid-related issues, and could only name two subs on the bench. Veteran defender Niall Stott was drafted in to play alongside youngster Cal White at the heart of a makeshift defence, and the duo performed heroically as did the rest of the players in a memorable victory.
Athletic were on the front foot from the off and persistence from Dominic MacAulay on the left forced an early corner. Thomas Lewis, who scored a hat-trick on the same ground on the opening day of the season, whipped in an inswinger but it was easily gathered by Golspie keeper Cameron Yuill at his near post.
At the other end Golspie threatened when Liam Bremner slid the ball through to Ally MacLeod but Athletic 'keeper Ryan Slaney rushed off his line to smother. Slaney was also quick to react as he kept out an effort from Golspie player/manager Sam MacKay.
The home side came close to an opener in the 12th minute when they were awarded a free kick 20 yards out. Bremner curled his shot round the wall but the post came to Athletic's rescue.
There was not let up in the play and Athletic created two openings in as many minutes. MacAulay squared the ball for Kieran Duffty whose goal-bound shot was well saved by Yuill. In their next attack Charlie Thompson was agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock with an effort which just cleared the crossbar.
Play continued to swing from end to end and after a Cameron Sutherland piledriver was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Slaney, MacLeod headed wide from the resultant corner.
But it was Athletic who made the all-important breakthrough in the 28th minute. The sprightly MacAulay cut in from the left, skipped past a couple of defenders and drilled the ball into the far corner of the net for a sensational opener.
Yuill was the busier of the two keepers at this stage and he denied Luke MacKay and MacAulay in quick succession.
It was no surprise when Athletic doubled their lead in the 39th minute. A McCheyne header, following Lewis's corner from the left, was blocked on the line but the loose ball appeared to be deflected into the net off the keeper's boot with Luke MacKay in close attendance.
Slaney was called into action a couple of minutes later with an important save from Conor Cormack as the wide player burst through on goal.
But the action-packed first half ended with the industrious Lewis clipping the outside of Yuill's left hand post.
Half Time – Golspie Sutherland 0, Inverness Athletic 2
Far from being content to sit on their two-goal lead Athletic pushed forward straight from the re-start and MacKay forced a save from Yuill.
The visitors kept up the momentum and they deservedly went further ahead in the 59th minute after they were awarded a free kick. Lewis spread the ball out to Liam Smith on the right flank and the full back's inch-perfect delivery was bundled over the line by the ever-alert MacKay.
It looked a long way back for Golspie, but they can never be written off. And reminiscent of the their late fightback in the thrilling 4-4 match on the opening day of the season, they staged a repeat performance.
Miller MacKay began the revival in the 79th minute when he fired high into the net from close range after a lightning raid on the Athletic goal.
Golspie's tails were up now and the ever-dangerous Liam Bremner got on the end of a delivery from sub Alfie MacKay in the 83rd minute to fire past Slaney.
Just when it looked as though Athletic might hold out referee Stewart Randall spotted a hand-ball in a crowded Athletic box and immediately pointed to the spot. Bremner made no mistake from the spot in the 88th minute as the tie went to penalties.
Full Time – Golspie Sutherland 3, Inverness Athletic 3
Slaney was the hero in the penalty shoot-out with three super saves as Athletic prevailed 4-3. Kieran Duffty, Dominic MacAulay, Ryan Slaney and Liam Smith were the players on target for Athletic.
Athletic will play local rivals Loch Ness in the second round of the cup on Saturday, October 2.
Golspie Sutherland – Cameron Yuill, Colin McRae, Blair Duncan, Owen Harrold, Adam Sutherland, Cameron Sutherland, Sam MacKay, Ally MacLeod, Liam Bremner, Conor Cormack, Miller MacKay. Subs – Danny Coghill, Alfie MacKay, Ali MacRae, Robbie Sutherland.
Inverness Athletic – Ryan Slaney, Liam Smith, Liam Creighton, Niall Stott, Cal White, Cameron McCheyne, Charlie Thompson, Kieran Duffty, Thomas Lewis, Luke MacKay, Dominic MacAulay. Subs – Euan MacDonald, Brodie Watson.
Referee – Stewart Randall.
Athletic manger, Jason Golabek was delighted with his players' endeavours, he said: “From the first whistle we were right at it. The front three for us today were unplayable at times. Their movement and interchanging were excellent and we took our goals well. We deserved to be 3-0 up but three goals is never enough at Golspie. You just can't write them off until you hear the final whistle, and that's what happened again. We were light on the bench today, and the boys ran themselves into the ground, there were a lot of tired legs. But they showed great character for the penalties, great belief and they got what they deserved today. I'm proud of every one of them.”
Match Report by John Macleod