A LAST-MINUTE winner gave Brora Rangers the perfect start to the new Highland League season last weekend with a 2-1 victory at the Mosset Park home of reigning champions Forres Mechanics.
The Can-Cans were eager to hit the ground running against a Brora team that some have tipped to take the next title.
Conditions were perfect with a light breeze and sunshine breaking through the clouds for kick-off on a pristine pitch.
Forres started with Chris Stuart in goal again due to the absence of Stuart Knight, while Brora gave new signing Ally Ridgers his debut.
Ryan Mackintosh was the first to shoot, turning his marker brilliantly only to scuff his chance straight at Ridgers.
Kyle Scott then broke through the defence but dragged his shot to the left of the goal.
Brora looked set to make the breakthrough on the 25th minute when former Mechanic Craig Campbell rounded advancing Forres keeper Stuart, but the ball was nicked away for a corner before the striker could take advantage of the gaping goal.
It was nip and tuck in the opening half with little in the way of clear-cut chances, but ended with a goal from Forres as Scott Lawrie marked his debut with a well-struck volley into the bottom right-hand corner of the net after a ball in from the right.
The opening 20 minutes of the second half were similar, with Kyle Scott heading the only real opportunity after a good delivery from the left wing, but it was substitute Liam Baxter who was to change the shape of the game.
Brora began to turn up the heat with a Steve Mackay free-kick spinning into the box before a dinked shot from the crowded area spun over the bar.
After a fine save from Stuart, Mackay was unusually wasteful in shooting wide on the rebound.
The leveller arrived 15 minutes from time. Forres were undone by a long ball in behind the defence and Liam Baxter nipped in ahead of Stuart to slot the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Brora had a strong claim for a penalty when Baxter appeared to have his legs taken from under him in front of the keeper. The referee thought otherwise and waved play on.
The home support encouraged the champions to look for the winner in the dying moments and Forres went close as a header flew across the face of the goal with no-one there to turn it in.
In the end, it was Brora who produced the cutting edge in the final minute to win the game.
A corner swung into the area bounced around the box until it fell to Dale Gillespie who kept his cool to place a shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to spark wild celebrations at the corner flag.
Brora manager Andy Macleod said: "It was typical first game of the season stuff. Neither side got a grip of the first half and there were a number of misplaced passes. Both sides created very little before they took the lead close to half-time and it was a disappointing goal to lose."
Macleod added that things improved after a couple of half-time changes.
"As the game went on our fitness and quality was telling and we took charge, equalising with about 15 minutes to go from a very composed finish by Liam Baxter," he stated.
"We were unlucky not to get a penalty with five minutes to go. But the players showed their character and finished the game off in the last minute of the game with a goal from Dale Gillespie.
"He deserves his reward as he has worked very hard and is showing up to be a real quality player for us."
The boss praised the spirit of his players and paid particular tribute to David Hind, who played a solid role at the back.
Forres manager Charlie Rowley said he was bitterly disappointed with the result.
"There was not much in the game. We know that Brora are going to be decent, but there was nothing between the two teams and when you take into consideration that we were missing eight players, I can’t be too critical of my team," he said.
Brora are at home to Cove Rangers tomorrow (Saturday). Kick-off is at 3pm.
Brora – Ridgers, Lamb, Golabek, Hind, MacLeod, Gibb, Gillespie, Hart, Campbell, Mackay, McLean (L Baxter 46). Subs not used – Greig, Innes, MacLean and Taylor.