A second half St. Duthus fightback wasn't enough to take a point at Invergordon on Saturday, as Saints opened the new Macleod & MacCallum North Caledonian League season with a narrow 3-2 derby defeat.
New signings James Mackay, James Skinner, Kyle Mackenzie, Aneek Khan as well the returning Steven Martin and Barry Kenny were all involved in the squad for Saints' first competitive game of 2020-21, while John Skinner missed out due to injury.
Invergordon were first on the attack, making ground down the right hand side before the ball was spread to Kyle Maclean on the left. His ball into the box was nodded into the path of Scott Houston who headed far and wide of the post.
A minute later, Saints were awarded a free kick just inside the Invergordon half for a foul on Ben Bruce. Ross Tokely floated the ball into the box and connecting with a glancing header James Skinner forced Grant Beattie to scramble the ball just past the post. From the resultant corner, the ball was cleared out to Jon Campbell who fired wide from the edge of the area.
Invergordon continued to threaten down the right and on the quarter hour Niall Docherty broke clear to register the first shot on target of the game with a strike from an acute angle. Steven Martin, though, was up to the task in the Saints goal, getting down low to stop the shot.
The opener arrived in similar fashion on 18 minutes though, and it was Docherty again who broke down the right, this time finding Russell Macintyre, who turned and fired the ball into the far corner to make it 1-0 for the hosts.
Five minutes later, Martin had to be alert again to save a shot from Ken Morrison after the midfielder had been played into space by Shaun Kerr.
Despite a difficult first half, Saints weren't without chances, and they were unlucky not to equalise on 33 minutes when a James Mackay free kick was nodded into the path of Barry Kenny who headed towards goal from 5 yards into the arms of Beattie.
Invergordon extended their lead on 37 minutes with a stunning opportunist goal. Collecting a loose ball 25 yards from goal, Kyle Macdonald made no mistake when he sent the ball sailing over Martin and into the net to double his side's advantage.
A torrid first half got worse for St. Duthus two minutes before the break when a neatly taken corner kick on the left hand side found Docherty on the edge of the box, and the Invergordon man's shot at goal delflected beyond a helpless Martin to make it 3-0.
The only way was up for Saints as they restarted the match for the second half, and within eight minutes they had pulled a goal back. Collecting a Charlie Macdonald throw, Jon Campbell did well to turn inside before laying the ball to Cammy Mackintosh who sent a looping first time ball into the box. The ball found Ben Bruce who timed his run to perfection before finding the bottom corner with a cool left foot finish.
Saints showed greater determination in the second period and enjoyed more frequent spells of possession as they aimed to further beg back the hosts.
Quick reactions between the sticks from Martin kept Saints in with a fighting chance during a ten minute sticky spell, pulling off saves from Kerr and Jack Mackay at close range.
With five minutes left, Saints reduced the deficit to one goal and it was Bruce again who found the net after good work between Charlie Macdonald and Glenn Fell down the left hand side to hit the hosts on the counter attack.
A frenetic last few moments saw little in terms of scoring opportunities other than a shot from substitute Kyle Mackenzie which didn't trouble Beattie, and a free kick sent well wide of target at the other end.
One last push from a free kick saw a volleyed shot from Bruce blocked on the edge of the area, and with that, time was called.
Grant Beattie, Kyle Macdonald, Daniel Christie (Cammy Houston 70), David Mackay, Scott Houston, Jack Mackay, Niall Docherty (bkd 81) (Callum Murray 87), Ken Morrison, Shaun Kerr, Russell Macintyre (Scott Maciver 85), Kyle Maclean (Jordan Knight 57)
Sub not used: Alan Duff
Steven Martin, Alan Geegan (bkd 55) (Keir Carson 85), Glenn Fell, Barry Kenny, Charlie Macdonald (bkd 70), Jon Campbell, Ross Tokely, James Skinner (Adam Allan 57), Ben Bruce, James Mackay (bkd 22) (Kyle Mackenzie 57), Cameron Mackintosh
Subs not used: Aneek Khan, Finn As-Chainey
Referee: Gordon Seago
Assistants: Daniel Jack & Ian Ross