St. Duthus have reached the Jock Mackay Memorial Cup Final having blown away their Inverness hosts with a stunning first half display which saw them record an impressive 4-1 win.
There were four big changes to the side who took all three points in the league meeting between Saints and their Inverness opponents. Both Charlie Macdonald and Ross Tokely were unavailable for the game due to other commitments, with Will Ross and trialist Reece Paterson stepping in to take the vacant spots. Paul Beaton missed out due to suspension, serving the first match of a two game ban, while Mikey Rae returned to take up the left back spot. Robbie Murray also returned from holiday while Liam Rostock, recovering from injury, missed out.
It took just seven minutes for Saints to open the scoring and the in-form Ben Bruce showed signs that he was in a deadly mood once again as he lashed the ball past Ryan Hunter after receiving the ball just inside the box from Cammy Mackintosh.
Mikey Rae was unlucky with an effort from the edge of the box which he hit just after breaking down the left side, his shot flying just over the bar. Only a couple of minutes later though, it was 2-0. A quickly taken free sent Jon Campbell free and the midfielder acted fast to send an unstoppable curling ball towards goal which found the postage stamp, giving Hunter no chance.
On 14 minutes, Athletic pulled one back. An Inverness free kick 25 yards from goal was sent in to the box by Phil MacDonald, but on its way it took a wicked deflection off the head of the first man Stefan MacRitchie and goalkeeper Stephen Campbell was left wrong footed as it flew in at his near post.
Immediately from the restart though, the ball was played back to Mikey Rae who sent a long pass over the top of the Inverness defence and Ben Bruce was on hand again to dink the ball over Hunter with a familiar finish to restore the two goal advantage.
Saints were persistent in their efforts to extend the lead, and on 22 minutes a flurry of opportunities for Cammy Mackintosh and then Jon Campbell had Athletic on the ropes again.
Moments later, a good ball down the right allowed Stefan MacRitchie to cross into the box, and getting on the end of a clearance Cammy Mackintosh volleyed towards goal. His shot was blocked though but the ball fell into the path of Rae who fired a shot towards goal only for it to reach the feet of Ryan Stewart who desperately directed the ball over his own bar.
A fourth eventually arrived on 35 minutes after Jon Campbell was brought down in the box. Making no mistake for his second hat-trick in a row, Ben Bruce sent Hunter the wrong way and side footed into the bottom corner with ease.
With all the work done in the first half, Saints were content to sit back in the second, their modified defensive lineup holding up to scrutiny very well as Athletic pushed to reduce the deficit. Persistent corner kicks and set pieces were dealt with very capably by the Saints rearguard, rarely looking troubled.
Even in the latter stages of the second half, St. Duthus weren't without opportunities to extend their lead. An hour in, subsitute Finn As-Chainey showed flashes of his threat on the left hand side when he beat two defenders before laying the ball to Jon Campbell who shot over.
As-Chainey was unlucky not to score ten minutes later when he caught Hunter off his line by launching a shot at the empty goal - but his effort landed on the top of the net.
Five minutes from time, the quick feet of Athletic's Ryan Macleod won his side a penalty after he was fouled on the byline. Stephen Campbell though, was clearly feeling good in the St. Duthus nets as he easily saved DJ MacPhee's spot kick before the same player rattled the crossbar with the rebound. Cammy Mackintosh cleared the ball to safety, sending Alan Geegan on a run down the right, but his cross into the box was cleared.
The victory secures Saints' place in the Jock Mackay Memorial Cup Final for the second time in four seasons. Their opponents will be Orkney, who defeated Golspie 4-2 this weekend in their semi-final tie. The game is set to be played on Saturday, November 9th with a 1pm kick off at the neutral venue of Invergordon.
Ryan Hunter, Russell Macintyre, Ryan Ingram, Ryan Stewart, Liam Symonds, Blair Morrison, Roddy Innes, James Mackay (Gordon Finlayson 46), James Murray (Lee Tarran 57), Dean Allison (DJ MacPhee 65), Phil Macdonald (Ryan Macleod 80)
Stephen Campbell, Adam Allan, Mikey Rae, John Skinner, Reece Paterson (bkd 82), Jon Campbell (bkd 63), Stefan MacRitchie (Alan Geegan 77), Cammy Mackintosh, Ben Bruce (bkd 67) (Scott Miller 71), Will Ross, Robbie Murray (Finn As-Chainey 60)
Referee: John Nicolson (Inverness)
Referee assistants: Colin Macdonald and Paul Grant