• North Caledonian League
    Invergordon 2, Inverness Athletic 1

    INVERNESS Athletic were back in action against North Caledonian League title contenders Invergordon at the Recreation Grounds on Saturday and they were desperately unlucky not to come away with at least a point in highly entertaining match.

    Athletic, who had not played since their 1-1 draw with Alness United at the IRA on December 18, made three changes in their line-up. On-loan Clach duo, Danni Bruce and Alan Kerr featured for the first time with Alan having to be content with a place on the sub's bench. Thomas Lewis returned from injury and Luke MacKay was also a starter, while Reece Shaw and Kieran Duffty dropped to the bench.

    After a cagey start from both sides Athletic were first to threaten in the seventh minute. Harry Shewan sent over an inviting cross from the right which just missed

    by the in-rushing Dominic MacAulay. Thomas Lewis, who was following up, did get on the end of it but failed to direct his header on target.

    Invergordon stepped up a gear after this let-off and they forced a corner on the left. Kyle MacLean delivery was met by Ben Kelly but he knocked the ball wide of the upright.

    Kelly was more clinical in the 12th minute, however, when he met another MacLean corner. This time the forward found the back of the net from close range to give Invergordon the lead.

    The home side went in search of a second goal and after Kyle MacDonald tested Ryan MacLeod in the Athletic goal with a low drive, Ken Morrison headed over from a set piece move.

    An uncharacteristic slip by Athletic skipper Liam Symonds in the 36th  minute allowed Kelly a clear run on goal but MacLeod was quick off his line to save the danger.

    IFC v IAFC 15-01-22-2

    Athletic were finding it difficult to get going but they did pose the occasional threat with Lewis looking lively on the left flank.

    The wee winger had a couple of goal-bound efforts blocked in quick succession but most of the action was at the other end.

    On the stroke of half time Invergordon were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position. MacLean's stinging shot was brilliantly touched onto the post by MacLeod and Invergordon defender Charlie MacDonald crashed the rebound onto the crossbar, but he was ruled off-side in any event.

    Half-time – Invergordon 1, Inverness Athletic 0

    Athletic looked a different proposition in the second half. They immediately went on the offensive and Shewan skipped past his marker in the 48th minute but his effort flew just wide of the post.

    On the other flank Lewis was causing all sorts of problems for the Invergordon defence. Just before the hour mark his ball into the box produced a free for all in the penalty area with MacAulay and Luke MacKay both having shots blocked. Athletic felt they should have had a penalty during this melee when a Invergordon player appeared to handle the ball but nothing was given.

    Athletic rang the changes shortly afterwards. Reece Shaw and Kieran Duffty replaced Ryan Walker and Harry Shewan, while Alan Kerr came on for MacKay.

    The visitors then made the breakthrough their second half endeavours merited when they drew level in the 72nd minute.

    It was Lewis again who produced the spark. His ball into the box eventually fell for MacAulay who scooped it past former Athletic 'keeper Ryan Slaney and into the net for a deserved equaliser.

    IFC v IAFC 15-01-22-22

    However, parity only lasted for five minutes when Athletic were undone by another set piece. MacDonald, Invergordon's imposing central defender, got on the end of an inswinging corner to force the ball over the line.

    It was tough on Athletic but the nearest they came to rescuing a point was in the dying minutes when a cross from sub Kieran Duffty was met by Kerr whose header drifted just wide of target.

    Athletic will possibly feel hard done having not picked up anything from this game but they can take some heart from their second half display which unsettled an experienced Invergordon side for long spells.

    Thomas Lewis was undoubtedly Athletic's man-of-the-match with an inspired display, while the two new on-loan boys, Danni Bruce and Alan Kerr impressed on their first outing.

    Unfortunately, Athletic came up against an experienced Invergordon side who were well served at the back by the central defensive partnership of, Charlie MacDonald and Jordan Laidlaw, who did little wrong all afternoon.

    Full time – Invergordon 2, Inverness Athletic 1

    InvergordonRyan Slaney, Kyle MacDonald, Ruaridh Patience, Charlie MacDonald, Jack MacKay, Niall Docherty, Ken Morrison, Ben Kelly, Cameron MacIntosh, Kyle MacLean.
    Subs Callum Gow, Shaun Kerr, Alan Duff, Darran Goller, Callum Murray.

    Inverness AthleticRyan MacLeod, Liam Smith, Danni Bruce, Craig Morrison, Liam Symonds, Ryan Walker, Harry Shewan, Charlie Thompson, Luke MacKay, Dominic MacAulay, Thomas Lewis.
    SubsKieran Duffty, Liam Creighton, Cal White, Alan Kerr, Reece Shaw.

    Referee – Stephen McDade.

    Inverness Athletic manager, Jason Golabek felt his side were 'hard done by' but praised the 'hunger and belief' his players showed, especially in the second half.

    He said: “We huffed and puffed in the first half and never got going. We looked a bit rusty as we hadn't played in a few weeks. But we changed the shape at half time and I thought we were much better in the second half and limited them to very little. We were unfortunate not to get at least a point.

    “We came out in the second half and went straight at them and got the equaliser, which was what we deserved. But we were killed by two corners, two set-pieces. You can see Invergordon are experienced and work on set pieces. It's just about learning from it.”

    He added: “We feel very hard done by but it is the story of our season. We also had a penalty turned down. I didn't see it myself but I heard it was a stone wall one. But I am not going to use that as an excuse. We need to defend set-pieces better or we are not going to be able to move forward. But in terms of workrate, possession of the ball, the hunger and belief in the second half I couldn't be more proud of them.”