St. Duthus completed their fixtures for 2020-21 with a trip up to Thurso yesterday, and came away with a point, thanks to a fighting defensive performance and some great goalkeeping - but it wasn't easy.
If ever there was a teamline that could sum up a pandemic era end of season game in the month of June, it may well be the one St. Duthus named for today's game. Several trialists were named in both the starting lineup and on the bench as a combination of injuries and unavailablity left several first team players missing for what would be the club's final game of the season.
There were a couple of returns to note in the squad. Adam MacDonald made a comeback to the starting lineup, having been out of action since the team last went up to Caithness in November last year, while Scott Miller took to the field for his first game of the season, starting up front. Andrew Macleod also came back into contention, having last played in November.
A minutes silence was observed before the game in memory of Allan Munro, the former Invergordon and Brora Rangers manager, who sadly passed last week.
With ten minutes gone, John Allan and John Skinner could only watch as a shot was curled onto the crossbar; an early warning that Thurso had an eye for goal. As it turned out, the first period would prove to be a very one sided affair, with Saints pegged right back and forced into some resolute and clever defending. Added into the bargain, injuries to Adam MacDonald (substituted after half an hour for trialist Matthew Scott) and Alan Geegan (coming off for trialist Steven Sutherland at the break) made it a torrid first half overall.
In goal throughout, Johnny Allan had to be in superb form - and indeed he was. Thurso's best chance came with 35 minutes gone, when a fantastic one-on-one save denied Thurso's Martin Banks inside the six yard box. Allan repeated his heroics moments later with a save of equal measure, before Conor Mackintosh fired into the net on the rebound. But, with the flag up on the far side, the goal was disallowed.
More chances followed for the home side but Skinner, Andrew Macleod and trialist Paul Cowie, supported by several able bodies in the box were able to block or intercept the majority of chances, leaving messrs Banks and Macintosh to fire high and wide of goal on further occasions.
Saints managed to survive the first 45 minutes without conceding - that was, until injury time, when Macintosh left Allan rooted to the spot with a low shot driven into the bottom corner, giving Thurso the edge at the interval.
The injury to Geegan forced the visitors into a formation reshuffle at the break, and St. Duthus began to settle into the game after it was restarted. It still came as a surprise though, when ten minutes into the second half they shocked their hosts by getting themselves on level terms. The leveller began with a neat layoff to Finn As-Chainey out wide, and breaking down the left side, he hit a well timed cross into the area to find trialist Hasheem Bremner. Making no mistake, the former Golspie wing back forced the ball past Conor Simpson with authority to make it 1-1.
The goal appeared to take some of the wind out of Thurso's sails as the action began to flow at both ends, and their relentless zeal was beginning to fade. Tiredness was also beginning to rear its head in the beating sun. Although Allan remained the busier of the two keepers, Saints were building chances when the opportunity arose on the counter.
Substitute Ally Mackintosh, making his St. Duthus debut, was unlucky not to snatch a winner for Saints on 85 minutes with a clever turn and first time shot on the edge of the box. Simpson though, held the shot.
At the other end, another spectacular save - perhaps the best of the game from Allan - kept the scores level when he turned a Bobby Gunn header wide at the far post.
As time wore on, Thurso pushed for a winner, but again the steadfast backline of St. Duthus proved a bridge too far for the Vikings; Mackintosh taking the plaudits late on for a crucial block on the line. One last throw of the dice left Jake Lockett with a chance to snatch a Saints win, but alas it was not to be and the curtain fell on the 2020-21 season as Saints rounded it off with a well earned point at Sir George's Park.