Game: Nairn County FC 'A' vs St Duthus FC (Macleod & MacCallum North Caledonian League)
Date: Saturday, August 21st, 2021
Venue: The Riverside Park, Nairn
Weather: 19°C (dry with some cloud, no wind)
Referee: Barry Stuart
Assistant referees: Alan Clunie & Liam Paterson
The curtain shall be raised on the new Macleod & MacCallum North Caledonian League season this weekend, and a trip to Nairn awaits St. Duthus as they get their campaign underway.
Despite playing a handful of games in May and June, it has been a long 9 months for teams in the North Caley, who have waited patiently for the return of regular football. Manager Stuart Ross, though, is pleased to finally be looking forward to a full season.
"It's been a strange season and a half almost playing during the pandemic. Very stop-start with restrictions making things feel a bit different with many new challenges to overcome. A lot of work has been put in behind the scenes to make sure we've got through it all admirably and I hope we can now get back to some sort of normality."
"There is no doubt that it has been quite hard to just focus on the football throughout this period, but I feel like that is changing. Like most teams have, we've lost a couple of players from the squad, but that's football - sometimes people move on. I am delighted to say thought that we have strengthened with a number of great additions, and we are all excited to see what we can do as a group. We have brought together an exciting young squad with a lot of potential. Training sessions have been good and our pre-season has gone well. We have also managed to play a couple of friendlies in recent weeks and the boys are buzzing just to get going now."
This weekend's opener at Riverside Park will be the first ever league meeting between the two sides, with Nairn 'A' having joined the North Caledonian League only last season as part of the second tier. Adding to the anticipation is the fact that the clubs met just a fortnight ago on the same ground in a friendly match - the result going the way of St. Duthus by 2 goals to 1.
The match on Saturday will be an entirely different prospect though with a win and three points the main aim as opposed to game time and match fitness. St. Duthus go into the game having finished last season in third place, just four points behind champions Golspie Sutherland. Nairn County, competing in League 2, finished second to Alness United, giving an impressive showing overall in their first season as league members.
Stuart Finnie's reserve side have been active in friendlies outings too during the summer, most recently away to Invergordon in a midweek match in which a handful of first team members also featured. They have been dealt a blow, however, with last season's top marksman Kieran Duffty, who scored 11 goals last term for the Riverside Park outfit, having left to join Inverness Athletic.
Despite Saints' pre-season victory over the Nairn outfit, manager Stuart Ross is under no illusions that a repeat will be a guarantee - and that hard work will be required if his side are to get off to a winning start.
"This first fixture away to Nairn will be a difficult prospect. We played them recently in a friendly and we know it will be a tough game. Stuart has his side well drilled, they are hard working unit and we'll expect nothing less on Saturday."
Saints have no major injury worries for the game, however a handful players will miss out due to work committments. Players who could make their competitive debuts for the club include new signings Paul Gair, Connor Smith, Lewis Smith, Ryan Renwick, Daniel Hutchison, Billy Cairns and Gary Millard - all of whom are available for selection.