Derby opener set to attract bumper crowd
WHEN the fixture fairy compiled the 2018/19 Breedon Highland League fixtures, she came up with a plum tie for the opening game of the campaign as Brora Rangers play host to neighbours and derby rivals Wick Academy at Dudgeon Park on Saturday.
In what is always a much anticipated and highly charged derby, early season bragging rights will be up for grabs. With the good weather set to continue, a bumper crowd will be expected.
After a low-key but intense start to pre-season training, the Cattachs' recently appointed manager Steven Mackay put his side through a tough seven days, playing four games including a weekend away in a challenging tournament at Kelty.
Brora kicked off their pre-season matches at near neighbours Lairg Rovers, where the ubiquitous midge gave all players and supporters their traditional welcome. Despite a spirited performance from Lairg, Brora ran out comfortable 7-1 winners.
Two days later, back at Dudgeon Park, John Robertson brought a very good Inverness Caledonian Thistle X1 north – including Sean Welsh, recently arrived from Falkirk – in what turned out to be an excellent game with ICT winning 3-1.
It was Brora who opened the scoring when Paul Brindle latched quickly on to a through ball, rounded keeper Daniel Hoban and squared to Kyle Macleod who slotted home from close range.
The lead was not to last long, however. Within a minute ICT had equalised, with Welsh converting a penalty after Ally MacDonald brought down Robby Kennedy in the box.
Abject carelessness then cost Brora Rangers dearly as ICT added a second and then a third, both from set-pieces, within a 10-minute spell.
The ship was steadied and the half-time break enabled Brora to regain their shape and composure.
The second half was a tight affair with chances falling to both sides, but there was no further scoring.
One sour note was the sending off of Sean Welsh for a needless head-butt on Kyle Macleod.
The weekend saw Brora make the long trip down to the Kingdom of Fife, where they had been invited to play in the Kelty Hearts summer tournament. Drawn against Clydebank on the Saturday, Brora won 2-1, although boss Steven Mackay would have been disappointed at the chances they squandered.
Kyle Macleod headed home the first and Paul Brindle forced an own-goal from Clydebank defender Jamie Darroch before Steven Higgins pulled one back with a spot-kick in the second half.
On the Sunday, Brora played Kelty Hearts in a game that was somewhat spoilt by a double injury to Colin Williamson and James Pickles. The pair of them clashed heads challenging for the ball which resulted in Pickles being taken to hospital for 15 stitches in his forehead, and Williamson being prevented from going back onto the field after the break by the doctor on duty.
Kelty Hearts took the lead within two minutes when Errol Douglas rose above the Brora defence to head home powerfully from a set-piece.
Brora were quick to gather themselves and both Brindle and Macleod forced good saves.
However, it was Kyle Macleod who reacted quickest to some slack defending in the Kelty ranks and forced an equaliser from a tight angle against the advancing Scott Christie in the Kelty goal.
With the injuries to Pickles and Williamson, Brora were forced into blooding youngsters Colin Macrae, Adam and Robbie Allan and U20 keeper Will Counsell. Despite the weakened side, it was not until 70 minutes that Kelty took the lead, with a wonderfully taken free kick by Iain Nimmo. Kelty added a further two late on to run out deserved winners.
The tournament certainly will have added sharpness to the Brora players, but it will mean that Steven Mackay takes his team into the first league game of the season with several absentees.