The first weather affected weekend of the Press and Journal Highland League season saw six games fall to ice and windy conditions, but the three remaining ties more than made up for those postponed, featuring an average of more than 6 goals per game.
Brora Rangers put one hand on the league trophy with a big win over fellow contenders Nairn County on a cold day at Dudgeon Park. The sides served up a seven goal thriller and the odd one in favour of Brora moved them three points clear of an idle Formartine with a game in hand. For the third time in three meetings this season, Brora cruised into an early lead and never looked back. The hosts were 3-0 up inside of half an hour courtesy of a Grant Munro double and a Richie Hart strike, and a Conor Gethins penalty was cancelled out when Zander Sutherland struck before the hour to seal victory. Nairn made the scoreline look respectable following late goals from Stuart Leslie and a second for Gethins, but Brora saw the game out to move seven points clear of the Wee County despite having played a game less.
The other title contenders were frozen out, with the two remaining games featuring teams from further down the table.
The Press and Journal Highland League serves up another busy card of fixtures this weekend, with the top three sides all in action and still in pursuit of what would be a debut league title for all three. While the title race continues, Fraserburgh fly the flag for the league as they take part in the fourth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Top of the table Brora Rangers head for Inverness as they continue their seemingly inevitable charge towards the championship. Clachnacuddin stand in the way of the Dudgeon juggernaut this weekend, and only the bravest of gamblers would put money on the lowly Merkinch side taking anything from the unbeaten Brora. Clach are stuck in the bottom four and are unlikely to find an escape route in a Brora team who’ve conceded just one goal in five away games.
Second placed Formartine United entertain Lossiemouth at North Lodge Park in what has the look of a must win game for the Pitmedden outfit. The hosts defeat to Cove last weekend leaves them two points behind the leaders having played two games more, and three points this weekend are a must if Formartine are to stay on the heels of the favourites. Lossiemouth head east with only one away win and without the suspended Kevin Flett and the players on loan from this weekend’s opponents, but the Coasters have recorded two wins from their three games in November and were comfortable winners over Rothes on their last outing.
Wick Academy travel to Victoria Park hoping for a repeat of last season’s 7-0 demolition of Buckie Thistle but almost a year on from that game the Jags are in stubborn mood, having lost only one home game this season. The Jags are notoriously shy in front of goal, however, and if Wick are to make anything of a stuttering title challenge affected by below par home results, this weekend is the time to start.
The Press and Journal Highland League season takes its first steps into winter with four teams involved in a colossal struggle for supremacy. Leaders Formartine United and outsider Nairn County face tough ties away to recent title winners, while northern duo Brora Rangers and Wick Academy welcome middleweight Shire sides to the far north.
Leaders Formartine United can retain top spot with a win at Cove Rangers, but the trip to Allan Park comes at a time when Cove are beginning to fight back after a slow start. Three consecutive wins have moved Cove into the top half of the table for the first time since the end of August, but Formartine were winners on their last trip to Cove, breaking their duck against the Aberdeen side with victory in the early stages of a regional cup.
Nairn County charged into the title race last weekend with a home demolition of Wick Academy and face a stern test of their credentials at Victoria Park against a Buckie Thistle side slowly building up a head of steam. The Jags are unbeaten at home in the league but have dropped points on their own turf to Fort William and Rothes and are notoriously shot shy, bagging only 9 goals in their 6 home games so far, while Nairn are unbeaten on the road since a defeat at Bellslea early in the season.
Brora Rangers welcome Huntly to Dudgeon Park knowing a win could be enough to take them to the top of the table should other sides drop points, and Huntly are unlikely to be the team to whom Brora drop their first home points of the season.
This coming weekend sees a full card of games in the Press and Journal Highland League, with two games standing out from the rest. Leaders Formartine United host an undefeated Brora Rangers, while Nairn County entertain Wick Academy.
North Lodge Park will host a game on which will without question influence the direction of this years title. Formartine United welcome Brora Rangers to darkest Aberdeenshire for a meeting of last season’s runners-up and this seasons favourites. Brora remain unbeaten in both the league and local competitions, with a narrow Scottish Cup defeat at Clyde their only reverse so far. Formartine haven’t lost at home over five games, while Brora have conceded just one goal in four ties played on the road.
Brora may be favourites for the league but Formartine have shown great resolve in recent weeks, securing late wins over Buckie and Fraserburgh, and may just – just – have enough to record a win and keep the title race going.
While first and third meet in the Shire, Station Park plays host to the battle between second and fourth. Nairn County take on Wick Academy in a game that could see the Wee County launch themselves headfirst into the challenge for the title. Early defeats left them lagging behind, but County have bounced back sit a handful of points off the top of the pile and a win this weekend would move them to within a point of Wick. The Harmsworth side sit just behind Formartine but are beginning to find themselves stretched, and needed a late goal to secure a win over a struggling Keith side last weekend.
The Press and Journal Highland League returns from cup capers with a full card, and the top four face a mixed bag of games as they continue their title challenges.
League leaders Formartine United make the journey north to face cup heroes Fraserburgh, who were spared the hassle of a Scottish Cup third round replay when Grant Noble slotted home a last minute winner in last week’s tie at home to Montrose. On the same afternoon, Formartine were toying with Buckie Thistle, giving the Jags a 3-1 lead before roaring back to win with a last minute goal of their own courtesy of Cammy Keith. Formartine took all 6 points from the two meetings last season, and will need to make it three wins in a row if they’re to keep ahead of their rivals.
Brora Rangers get back to league business with a home game against struggling Rothes. Brora’s narrow loss at Clyde was their first of the season, but the Dudgeon Park side will be heavy favourites to extend their perfect run of league results. The good ship Rothes has found calmer waters since the departure of Frani More, and last month’s win over Strathspey followed by a draw at Buckie helped them to their first points since August, but Brora are more than capable of taking full points from a side that conceded 8 in one afternoon to Clach.
Wick Academy welcome to Harmsworth Park a Keith side still reeling from their defeat at home to bottom side Fort William. After turning in a performance described in the local press as ‘inept’ by manager Darren Still, Keith have much to prove but will find the going difficult at a ground where Wick very rarely lose. Wick were 5-1 winners in this fixture last season and, following a big win at Clach last weekend, are favourites to run out winners once again.
Five Highland League sides are playing for the right to face one of the big guns as they take part in the third round of the William Hill Scottish Cup this weekend. Three sides face difficult trips south while two will fancy their chances at home. There are also five league games taking place on a weekend which will see some movement at the top and bottom of the table.
League leaders Brora Rangers are ranked as outsiders for their tie against League Two opponents Clyde. Brora are cruising through their league fixtures but have made hard work of their cup run, requiring a last minute goal to beat Vale of Leithen and a replay to get past Cove Rangers. Clyde made short work of Gala Fairydean Rovers in the previous round and have won their last two league games, and should prove to be the stiffest test all new Brora have faced this season.
Deveronvale travel south to face Albion Rovers, the second time in recent years Charlie Charlesworth has led a Highland League side into a tie against the Coatbridge side. Last time out, his Lossiemouth side were narrowly beaten and, having watched his Vale side dispose of league sides last season, Charlesworth has the chance of revenge this weekend.
Inverurie Loco Works go into their tie against Alloa Athletic in goalscoring form having rattled in four against Lossie last weekend, but while the mid-ranking Championship side will be a tougher challenge, Locos head for Recreation Park at the right time. Alloa are without a win in three games and lost heavily at home to Queen of The South last weekend, form which will give Locos hope.
After a month of cup-related disruption, the Highland League returns to normal this weekend with a full card of fixtures. The winners of last weekend’s regional cup finals, Brora Rangers and Formartine United, face a tricky afternoon on their return to league business while the chasing pack fight amongst themselves over who gets to finish third behind the trophy winners.
Aberdeenshire Cup winners Formartine United travel to Station Park where they take on a Nairn County side still wounded from their loss to Brora on Saturday. The league leaders recovered from 2-0 down to lift their first senior trophy thanks to an injury time goal from Michael Ewen. The Pitmeddeners have a perfect record in the league and go west knowing a win would put a dozen points between the teams and effectively end any remaining hope Nairn had of challenging for the title.
North of Scotland Cup winners Brora Rangers take on Deveronvale at Dudgeon Park looking for a ninth straight league win. Three points behind Formartine with a game in hand, Brora silenced any remaining doubters with a big win over Nairn, but will be wary of facing a side that triumphed 5-0 the last time the sides met. Deveronvale make the trek north fifth in the league and, like a few other sides, know that third is likely to be the best they can achieve this season, and may have one eye on the forthcoming trip to Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup.
Highland League clubs face a mixed bag of cup finals, replays and league fixtures this coming Saturday, with the first silverware of the season on offer along with the last remaining place in the third round of the Scottish Cup.
Brora Rangers and Nairn County meet at Grant Street Park, Inverness to decide the fate of the North of Scotland Cup. Nairn go into the game as holders having beaten Wick Academy in an extra-time thriller last year, but an as yet unbeaten Brora Rangers will take some stopping as they look to land their first silverware in more than twenty years. When the sides met earlier this season Brora left Station Park with a 2-0 win, but Nairn have recovered from their slow start to land six wins from 7 since that afternoon.
At the other end of the Moray Firth, Formartine United and Inverurie Loco Works face off at Bellslea Park in the final of the Evening Express Aberdeenshire Cup. Locos dumped their rivals out of the Scottish Cup earlier this month, winning 2-0 at North Lodge Park, but have since fallen well behind the Pitmedden side following two defeats and a draw in their last three league games. Formartine were finalists in this cup lasts season and will be looking to make amends for letting slip a 2-0 lead before losing on penalties to Fraserburgh.