RECORDING their first victory since their revival, St Duthus defeated fellow North Caledonian new boys Inverness Athletic by 4 goals to 2 at the Links yesterday. An impressive crowd turned up for the Saints' Links return, as the recently improved Pavilion and playing fields were given their first use during the winter season.
With a near full squad to choose from, Stuart Ross welcomed Paul Cowie and Jake Lockett to the side for their competitive debuts, and a trialist midfielder was also named in the centre of the park. Returning to the team, captain Ryan Day bode farewell to his teammates ahead of his move to Glasgow.
A rip-roaring start to the first half gave the Saints a 3-0 lead after just twenty minutes. The first goal arrived in the seventh minute after a through ball allowed Liam Taylor to break the offside trap before testing Sandy Stephen in the Inverness goal. The keeper parried Taylor's effort, but Glenn Fell was on hand to send the ball over the line on the rebound to give the Saints the lead.
At the other end, a speculative ball into the box seemed like it would be caught by Steven Martin, but the Saints' stopper had to be on his toes as it sailed over his head and he reacted well to tip the ball over the bar. The Saints' second was scored on the quarter hour mark when the home side's trialist midfielder controlled a loose ball well before hitting a volley from 25 yards which flew over the head and beyond the reach of Stephen. Jamie Skinner was unlucky not to extend the lead with a shot sent wide before Taylor screwed a shot wide moments later.
Just five minutes later, the Tain men had made it three. From a corner, debutant Paul Cowie struck the ball from just inside the area to leave Stephen rooted to the spot as his shot flew low into the corner.
The visitors then reduced the deficit with a neat counter attack on 27 minutes, netting through Gary Calvert. Celebrations for Athletic lasted just thirteen minutes though, as the Saints' trialist central midfielder restored the Tain men's three goal advantage with a stinging drive from an acute angle at Stephen's far post to give St Duthus a healthy half time lead of 4-1.
Inverness manager Chris Darch and his team must surely have sent a rocket up his side at half time as they emerged the much hungrier of the two sides, and just five minutes into the half, they were awarded a penalty after Steven Martin was adjudged to have committed a foul. Having scored their first half goal, Calvert stepped up to take the spot kick, but Martin - saving his second penalty of the season - steered the ball away to safety with a superb stop.
Good work from Joe Sutherland, clearing off the line, and the clever timing of John Skinner saw the Saints defence come to the rescue a few tmes during a spell of Inverness pressure. The Inverness side's perseverance finally paid off on the hour mark when defender Michael Rodgers volleyed past Martin from a corner.
The Saints weren't without chances, though, during a much quieter second half for goals. Andrew Miller shot wide after good work along the byline from Steven Learmont and the same player had an effort blocked shortly after. Substitutes Jake Lockett and Scott Miller were both unlucky not to extend the lead as the game progressed.
Athletic were denied a further consolation on 80 minutes when Martin produced a double save, first from an Andrew MacPherson header, before his cat-like reflexes saw him collect a loose ball that seemed destined to cross the line.
The win pushes Saints into third place in the league table after two games, two points behind Orkney and three behind Invergordon, who have played one game more. Next week, St Duthus are at home again, this time welcoming Golspie Sutherland to the Links.
Steven Martin, Ryan Day, John Skinner, Glenn Fell, Joe Sutherland, Garry Macleod, Jon Campbell, Will Ross, Paul Cowie, Liam Taylor, Jamie Skinner
David Fraser, Steven Learmont, Jake Lockett, Andrew Miller, Scott Miller
Glenn Fell (7), Jon Campbell (15), Paul Cowie (20), Jon Campbell (40)
Sandy Stephen, Gordon Thomson, Andy McPherson, Michael Rodgers, Ayah Rattanaphithak, Mark Queen, Scott White, Martin Mainland, Darren McGregor, Jordan Knight, Gary Galvert
Glenn Donoghue, Iain Hughes, Terence Brady, David Smith, Jason Calvert
Gary Calvert (27), Michael Rodgers (60)
Referee: Gavin Dearie