The controversial sending-off of Inverurie Locos centre half Ryan Broadhurst midway through the first half changed the game in Cove Rangers’ favour as they made full use of their numerical advantage to claim the Highland League points with ease at Spain Park on Saturday.
Broadhurst’s dismissal was even more contentious as referee Tommy Shaw appeared to send off the wrong man as it looked like Broadhurst’s Locos team-mate Connor Rennie who had sent Mitch Megginson sprawling in the box, with the Cove Forward himself scoring from the spot to make it 1-0. Daniel Park and Jonny Smith added strikes to complete Cove comfortable 3-0 victory.
Cove remain hard on the heels of league leaders Brora Rangers and second-placed Buckie Thistle in the title race, with the Aberdeen side having two vital games in hand.
Man-of-the-match Megginson said: “I took a penalty against the Locos goalkeeper earlier in the season and went to his left, so this time I changed things and fire it straight down the middle.
“The sending-off definitely changed things. It gave us a lot more space to play in. Locos are a tough side to play against as they have been on a good run. It was difficult for them with only 10 men as they were always going to tire.”
Cove centre half Darryn Kelly had flu all week and did not even make the bench, his place going to the experienced Stuart Walker. Locos left veteran centre forward Martin Bavidge on the bench alongside young defender Sam Burnett, who had been out for a month with a knee injury.
There was something surreal about being at Spain Park, home of juniors Banks o’ Dee, for a six o’clock kick-off on a Saturday night but, with Dee having played Hall Russell United in the afternoon, homeless Cove were left with little option.
There was little to choose between the sides in the opening stages and it took 18 minutes for the first attempt at goal, Smith heading well over the Locos crossbar from eight yards.
Some cool defending by Broadhurst saved the day for Locos, with goalkeeper Scott Mathieson charging out of his area to clear the ball and Ryan Stott right up his back, but the big Englishman turned on a sixpence and the danger was a averted.
In the 23rd minute Megginson was brought down in the box. Referee Shaw pointed to the spot and sent off Broadhurst for denying a goalscoring opportunity but it looked like Rennie who was the main Cove culprit in bringing down Megginson. Ross Anderson was booked for dissent.
It certainly looked to be a harsh red card as Rennie slid into the tackle at exactly the same time and he escaped. Megginson took the penalty himself and calmly clipped it straight down the middle.
A minute later Locos substitute Martin Bavidge was yellow-carded on the bench for voicing his opinion of the controversial sending-off decision.
In the 32nd minute Cove doubled their advantage, Park sweeping the ball past the helpless Mathieson from just inside the box.
Mark Souter dropped out of the Locos midfield to take Broadhurst’s place in central defence but 2-0 down and having to play with only 10 men was always going to be a big ask for Locos.
At the start of the second half Locos introduced defenders Daniel Crisp and Gordon Forsyth in what looked like a damage-limitation exercise but, within two minutes of the restart, the Garioch side conceded another goal when Smith lashed the ball past Mathieson from 12 yards.
Cove kept pushing forward but Locos defended well and the game petered out as the three points were virtually in the bag.
Disappointed Locos forward Dean Donaldson said: “The sending-off changed the game. I spoke to the referee at half-time and told him that he had sent off the wrong man. It was Connor Rennie and not Ryan Broadhurst who had brought down Mitch Megginson for the penalty.
“Cove did pass the ball around well, the movement of their forward players was excellent, but I thought we were well in it up until Ryan was shown the red card.”