Nairn County reserves boss Stuart Finnie knows his side face the ultimate test against North Caledonian League champions Golspie Sutherland on Saturday.
And while he reckons his young guns are punching harder than expected, he backs them to continue to learn and develop in this competitive environment.
In Saturday’s match of the day, the Wee County have the chance to move level top with Loch Ness, who are idle, depending on how second-placed Halkirk United fare at Bonar Bridge.
— Nairn County FC (@NairnCounty) October 2, 2021
Nairn are away team against Golspie, who were crushing 9-0 victors over Bonar Bridge last weekend, while Nairn defeated Orkney 2-1 at Helmsdale, a venue agreed between the sides and hosts Bunillidh to reduce travel time and costs.
If Sam Mackay’s Golspie are the weekend winners, they would leapfrog Nairn and take a top four spot as a minimum, so it’s shaping up to be a cracker at King George V Park.
Golspie have 17 goals in two games
For Nairn coach Finnie, he is short on bodies as his side go up against a team who have racked up 8-1 and 9-0 routs in the past two weeks, but the mood is high after nine points from three fixtures within his own club.
He said: “Golspie have scored 17 goals in two games, so we know we’re up against it.
“They will be flying and full of confidence. From our point of view, we will lose at least a couple of boys to the first-team this week.
“It’s not ideal, but we know it is all about getting players into the first-team. We really need to be going up there with as strong a team as we can.
“We will give it our best shot. We have to respect what Golspie have done in the last two games, but we have three wins out of four, so that also speaks for itself.
“It’s always good when you’re picking up results. I do believe the time will come when we will be up against it, so we’ll see how we react to that.
“We are punching well about our weight, yet at the same time we are beginning to show we’re good enough. Everyone’s enjoying it so far this season.”
Nairn seeking regular game run
Although Golspie away could be a fixture to dread, Finnie is relishing a run of matches now to find a consistency of performance within his group.
He added: “It has been a stop-start season for us. We have had three free weekends already. We were due to play Scourie (who withdrew from the NCL) twice, so that was two free days. I think that showed on Saturday against Orkney when we struggled a bit.
“When you have a free week so often, it is tough. We don’t have a free matchday for a while, so hopefully we can get a run of games now to get a bit more consistency about our play.
“Last Saturday was good in a way because we showed we can win games by rolling up our sleeves and battling for the result. We didn’t play well, but we displayed another side to our game to dig in and grind out the win. It showed mentally we’re also getting stronger.
“Orkney were the better team and they had more possession, but we limited them to just the goal. Neither keeper had a decent save to make.”
Covid hit Nairn camp in September
So, overall, Nairn’s second string are settling in well in their second season in the NCL – the first year with all teams in one division after Covid prompted a change into two leagues.
Finnie explained it could have been even better had the dreaded bug not affected their squad last month.
He said: “We have exceeded expectations. We were unfortunate for the Halkirk game (a 5-2 defeat) where we were missing six or seven boys with Covid and I had it too and was missing for that one.
“If boys can’t make it, we call in players from the under-18s, so although we lost that day, it was good experience for these boys.”
Meanwhile, Invergordon can cash in on any slip-up above them and push into the top three if they defeat bottom side Inverness Athletic at Ardersier.
NEXT WEEK – NORTH CALEDONIAN LEAGUE – 9.10.21
(SPONSORED BY (MACLEOD & MACCALLUM)
Bonar Bridge v Halkirk Utd
Golspie Sutherland v Nairn County 'A'
Inverness Athletic v Invergordon
St.Duthus v Alness United
Thurso v Orkney (2.15 p.m)
— North Caledonian FA (@NorthCaleyFA) October 2, 2021
The winners of derby St Duthus and Alness United could well edge into the top half of the division, while mid-table Thurso will open a six-point gap over Orkney should they get the beat their visitors at St George’s Park.
Award for Inverness Athletic chief
Inverness Athletic chairman Sandy Stephen has been confirmed as the north regional winner of the Scottish FA’s best volunteer in adult football award.
The chief of the now Ardersier-based club, who is also North Caledonian FA secretary, was quick to point praise across the board, stressing the award is a shared prize.
He said: “It was totally unexpected. I got a call to say I had been nominated by a couple of people, and that I had won.
“While it’s nice to get a bit of recognition, this award is for everyone involved in the club, who plays their part.
GRASSROOT AWARDS | Congratulations Scottish FA North Regional winner of Best Volunteer in Adult Football 2021 – Sandy Stephen @FunFootballUK @McDonaldsUK @Sunday_Mail @InvernessAthFC pic.twitter.com/WzVj8LCrtn
— North (@ScotFANorth) October 3, 2021
“For example, my wife Caroline washing the kits. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without her. She’s a massive support to me and the club.
“Without so many people working hard behind the scenes, there would not be a club. Not one person can run a football club. You need the coaches doing their work and the players to buy into it all. It’s one big team effort.”
Mark Slater, Scottish FA club development manager (north), explained a bit more about the prize.
He said: “The awards aim to recognise the value grassroot volunteers like Sandy bring to football and to the local community.
“During what has been a challenging year for communities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the remarkable role of volunteers has been crucial across the game and the awards is one way to highlight this.”