Saints got their new season off to a frustrating and disappointing start away to Nairn County 'A' yesterday, losing by the odd goal in five during a close fought game which really could have gone either way.
Stuart Ross's new look St. Duthus, led by recently appointed captain Ben Bruce, lined up with Duncan Davidson returning for his first outing of the season in at centre half. Jake Lockett came back into the side having missed out on last week's friendly. There were debuts too for Ryan Renwick, Gary Millard, Paul Gair, Connor Smith and Billy Cairns, while new signings Daniel Hutchison and Lewis Smith also took a place on the bench.
Nairn County turned out with a couple of Highland League squad members in their ranks, among them returning captain Adam Porritt who took up a centre half berth for the home side.
Saints were the aggressors in the early going and had several chances to open the scoring, most notably through Connor Smith and Kyle Mackenzie who both had shots blocked. Jake Lockett was proving a persistent threat down the left hand side, sending in a number of dangerous balls into the box.
Ben Bruce had the ball in the net on 20 minutes, slamming the ball home from close range after getting on the end of a headed flick from Kyle Mackenzie - but referee Barry Stuart ruled the goal out for an apparent offside, despite no protests coming from the home side.
It took just another three minutes for St. Duthus to break the deadlock though, when Lockett's hard work finally paid off, the forward finding striker Kyle Mackenzie who sent the ball past Gus Wilson at the far post, opening his account for the season.
Celebrations for the Tain side were short lived, however, as Nairn immediately got themselves back into the game, capitalising on a set play which was not dealt with, Ciaran Young adding the final touch to steer the ball past Ryan Renwick.
Saints had further chances to retake the lead, most notably from a handful of free kicks outside the box, but the game became a frustrating one for St. Duthus, who just couldn't get going as they know they can, and as the first half wore out, Nairn came further into the game.
The second half got off to the worst start for Saints when Finn As-Chainey and Ben Bruce had a clash of heads, which then resulted in a delay of almost ten minutes. Both played on, and the latter came close with chances in the latter stages of the half, and looked the most likely to snatch a winner for Saints.
Changes followed as Alan Geegan and Billy Cairns replaced Adam Allan and Kyle Mackenzie, but despite their best attempts to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, no further scoring took place with just minutes left of the allotted 90 minutes. That was, until the 87th minute, when although it seemed like a 1-1 draw would probably be an appropriate ending to this evenly contested affair, Nairn had other ideas.
Hitting an unstoppable free kick from 30 yards out, Nairn's Young fired in off the crossbar with a thunderous effort, giving Renwick no chance and his side the lead for the first time in the game.
At 2-1 with minutes left, fortune seemed to have favoured the Riverside Park men, but - once again - partity was instantly restored. Showing great persistence inside the Nairn area, Billy Cairns found himself in on goal and he lashed the ball past Wilson with a superb finish from a tight angle.
But - there was still to be a final twist in the tale, as deep into injury time Logan Hallam grabbed the winner for his side, finding space to receive the ball at the end of a quick counter attack, side footing past Renwick to go 3-2 up.
One final attempt from Lockett after a burst through on goal was Saints' last hope of an equaliser, but it wasn't to be, as the points stayed in Nairn.
Renwick, A Allan (Geegan 57), Millard, Skinner, Davidson (bkd 28), Gair (bkd 93), C Smith, As-Chainey, Bruce, Lockett, Mackenzie (Cairns 61)
Referee: Barry Stuart
Assistants: Liam Paterson & Alan Clunie