Brora Rangers continue to set the pace
Written by Eddie Macrae
Brora Rangers returned back up the A9 with three crucial points following a narrow single goal win over Rothes at MacKessack Park that keeps them ahead of the chasing pack in the Highland League title race.
Like their visitors, the Speysiders have been on a remarkable run of form themselves, winning nine and drawing the other match of the last 10 since Ross Jack took over as manager in September.
Brora manager Steven MacKay took advantage of Brora’s free day last Saturday to visit Banff to see Rothes come away with an odd goal in three win over Deveronvale. He said before the match: “This is going to be a big test for both sides. We are both in good form. They are not conceding many goals, similar to ourselves, so it will be a tough game.”
And so it proved, with Jordan MacRae’s early header deciding the outcome.
Rothes added new loan signings Jack Brown from Caley Thistle and Elgin City’s Darryl MacHardy to the squad this week.
The Cattachs had a full squad to choose from and John Pickles started at centre-back so Colin Williamson had to be content with a place on the bench.
Brora started strongly and after two minutes Andy MacRae’s shot from 15 yards was just wide of the near post. The visitors didn’t have to wait much longer to open the scoring, Jordan MacRae heading Gavin Morrison’s right-wing cross down and into the net at the far post.
Shortly after that, Andy MacRae saw his rasping 18-yard shot from the inside left channel shave the near post. Martin MacLean then headed over at the near post from another Morrison free kick on the left before, on the quarter hour mark, Rothes had their first effort on target when Aidan Wilson's header from a right wing cross was held by Joe Malin low to his left.
This initial 15-minute period of Brora dominating proceedings then gave way to more end to end attacking as both sides showed exactly why they have been on long unbeaten runs. Jordan MacRae’s header from a left-wing cross was too tame to cause Ewen MacDonald in the Rothes goal any trouble and James Wallace’s right sided shot was wide of the far post. Rothes retaliated with efforts from former Brora player Allan Pollock, then Gregg Main fired wide before, on the half hour, Malin produced the first of several fine saves to push away Ryan MacRitchie’s diving header.
Both sides traded blow for blow without any more clear-cut chances until the half time whistle allowed the crowd to get their breath back.
Rothes started the second period on the attack and in the very first minute Brora-born striker Ally MacDonald’s goal-bound effort was kicked off the goal-line by Tom Kelly. Home keeper MacDonald was then grateful to hold MacLean’s rising 25-yarder before then getting down to push away MacLean’s next effort. This was a thrilling encounter worthy of the first and third placed teams in the league.
In the 64th minute Brora were awarded a penalty when Morrison’s 25 yard free-kick was adjudged to be handled in the Rothes wall. However, Jordan MacRae’s fiercely struck penalty crashed back off the bar.
Shortly after this, the Speysiders almost made Brora pay when Darryl MacHardy met a right-wing free-kick with a header at the far post that hit the underside of the bar before being scrambled away. In the 89th minute a Jordan MacRae piledriver was brilliantly parried away by Rothes keeper MacDonald before, in added time and with literally the last kick of the match,Malin also got down brilliantly to stop and hold Gary Kerr’s fierce drive with the Rothes forwards ready to pounce in numbers on any loose ball.
This could be an extremely important win for the league leaders come the end of the season. Brora captain Joe Malin said after the match: "I was really impressed by Rothes. They gave us a really tough game and not many will come here, take three points and keep a clean sheet this season.”