• North Caledonian League
    Inverness Athletic 0, Halkirk United 2

    IT took a wonder strike on the hour mark and a second goal deep into stoppage time to finally sink a much improved Inverness Athletic on a windswept 4G pitch at Inverness Royal Academy. Athletic gave as good as they got against an in-form Halkirk side, who went back to the top of the North Caledonian league table with this result.

    With both sides finding difficult to get into their stride due to the blustery conditions it was Athletic full back Harry Shewan who drove into the opposition box in the 13th minute but his parting shot failed to trouble Halkirk 'keeper Kieran MacLeod.

    Athletic came close to a sensational opener a minute later. Luke MacKay unleashed an sensational strike, after good work from Craig Morrison, which crashed off MacLeod's left hand post. But before the Athletic midfield man could react the 'keeper safely gathered the rebound. The chance seemed to lift the home side and when Thomas Lewis lofted the ball to the far post after 17 minutes MacLeod punched clear with Liam Smith waiting to pounce.

    The Athletic goal survived a real scare four minutes later when Halkirk wide-man Jonah Martens intercepted some sloppy play at the back but his effort on goal flew well wide of target. On the whole, the visitors were finding the Athletic defence, ably marshalled by Jamie Fraser and Liam Symonds, a tough nut to crack.

    The visitors threatened on a couple of occasions as the first half came to a close.
    Halkirk were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position just outside the 18-yard box, but Kyle Henderson's attempt was easily gathered by Ryan MacLeod in the Athletic goal.

    However, the Athletic 'keeper was fully tested a minute later when he was forced to dive full length to turn a Bryan Reid piledriver round the post for a corner.

    Clach U20_s v IAFC U20_s 25-10-21-5522
    Reece Shaw, in action here for our 20s squad, made his first team debut yesterday.
    Picture credit - SW Photo

    Athletic were dealt a blow early in the second half when Jamie Fraser, who had been a rock at the heart of the defence, limped off with an injury. It meant some rearranging at the back with substitute, Cal White slotting in at left back while Morrison moved into the middle of the defence.

    But Athletic kept plugging away in search of an opener and Lewis tested MacLeod with a fierce drive, then an angled shot from Kieran Duffty also produced a good save from the Halkirk 'keeper.

    But just when it looked as if Athletic were getting on top Halkirk's Grant MacNab produced a moment of magic. From fully 30 yards out the talented play-maker fired a sensational effort in off the underside of the crossbar for a wonder goal.

    Athletic rung the changes with Jordan Shaw and Kyle Munro coming off the bench to form a two-pronged attack, with the industrious Lewis dropping into midfield. The home side also went with three at the back in an effort to throw more players forward.

    But the nearest they came to an equaliser was a Duffty cross which MacLeod gathered at the second attempt with Munro looking for scraps.

    To add salt to the wound, Martens finished off a breakaway move to double Halkirk's lead in the third minute of stoppage time when he scored from close range.

    Inverness Athletic Ryan MacLeod, Harry Shewan, Craig Morrison, Jamie Fraser, Liam Symonds, Reece Shaw, Liam Smith, Charlie Thompson, Thomas Lewis, Luke MacKay, Kieran Duffty. 
    SubsCal White, Kyle Munro, Cameron McCheyne, Ryan Walker, Jordan Shaw.

    Halkirk UnitedKieran MacLeod, Byran Reid, Korbyn Cameron, Aiden Reid, James Mackintosh, Christopher Green, Kyle Henderson, Andrew Mackay, Sam Barclay, Grant MacNab, Jonah Martens. 
    SubsCameron Mackay, Kai Cameron, Alasdair Mackintosh, Eadan Ross.

    Referee -
    David Alexander

    Athletic manager, Jason Golabek, although disappointed with the result, was encouraged by what he had seen from his troops. “I was very impressed with what I watched today,” he said. “It was one of our best defensive performances all season. We gave them very little because of the way we worked and the shape we played.”

    On the change of formation, he added: “We found something that worked today. We changed the shape to 4-5-1 to try to bit a bit more solid. We were very good at it in the first half. We defended well. If I am going to be critical I don't think we created enough chances. But we've managed to tighten up at the back.”

    The Athletic boss had to hold his hands up when it came to the goal which broke the deadlock.“When you come up against good teams all it takes is a moment of brilliance from a good player,” he said. “He's hit an absolute world class strike – there is nothing you can do about it.”

    But he also had a special word for one of his own players: “I thought Reece Shaw, in particular, was outstanding today but there wasn't a failure. We were playing a top team but I felt we matched them. Moving forward I'm quite happy with what I saw today.”

    Report by John Macleod