Elgin City gave new League Two big-hitters Kelty Hearts a run for their money in the Premier Sports Cup but were edged out 3-1 in a feisty encounter at Borough Briggs.
An early opener from defender Creag Little put the hosts in front, but Cameron Russell levelled the tie just after the break.
Former Inverness forward Nathan Austin stepped off the bench to net a second half double for the Lowland League champions and keep alive their hopes of progressing in the cup behind Dundee United from Group B.
This was the first competitive meeting between the sides, but there will be four more to follow in League Two next season.
Kelty arrived with big expectations on their shoulders, but that’s because – based on results alone – they have been in sensational form on the way to the SPFL.
They took care of Brora Rangers and Brechin City in the play-off semis and final in May and they lost to Dundee United, St Johnstone and Stranraer in national cups last term.
Other than that, on league duty, they posted 14 wins and only one defeat.
The Fifers, of course, have a high-quality squad. As well as ex-Elgin City midfielder Thomas Reilly, they boast proven experienced SPFL players including Austin, Kallum Higginbotham, Joe Cardle and Michael Tidser.
They are also bossed by former Rangers and Hibs midfielder Kevin Thomson, who replaced Barry Ferguson in the summer when he moved on to the challenge of managing now-League One Alloa Athletic after their demotion from the Championship.
Elgin, who lost their opening tie 1-0 against Arbroath, were seeking to hit back from a 6-1 drubbing at Dundee United six nights ago.
Kelty arrived north full of beans. After losing 1-0 against Premiership United, they recorded a stinging 3-0 victory over League One opponents East Fife at the weekend.
For City, Josh Peters and Aidan Sopel came in for Rory MacEwan and Brian Cameron.
The visitors made five changes from the side who won at the weekend, with Austin dropping to the bench. That alone highlights the wealth of talent within their pool.
The Maroons began on the front foot and an early chance for Alfredo Agyeman was cut out after a confident build-up all the way from defence.
However, Elgin got their noses in front from their first real press after just five minutes. Tony Dingwall won a corner and Archie Macphee’s ball into the box was buried by a lethal Little header.
Full time here at BB as Kelty take the 3 points ⚫️⚪️ pic.twitter.com/h3GIScgkv0
— Elgin City F.C. (@ElginCityFC) July 20, 2021
There were some tasty tackles flying in all over the park, with the league rivals going toe-to-toe in the Moray sunshine.
Russell, who looked dangerous for Kelty, with most of their advancement made down that flank and he tested McHale with an angled drive pop from distance.
Agyeman was next to try his luck with his swerver from the edge of the box finishing just beyond the right post and Ross Philp drew a save from McHale with a low effort close to the break.
Elgin’s Kane Hester was booked for retaliating to a tug of the shirt by Jordan Forster, who was also booked for squaring up to the striker. It was a moment that irked Kelty, who spoke to the officials on the way up the tunnel.
Kelty were level seven minutes after the restart when a swiping shot from Russell from the edge of the box and precision and power to beat McHale.
Agyeman twice went close to winning it for Kelty, once by hitting the bar, the other by being thwarted by McHale and, for Elgin, Peters was unlucky to be denied by keeper Darren Jamieson.
However, Austin put Kelty ahead on 76 minutes with a classy 25-yard strike, which gave McHale no chance when he cashed in on a slip-up. Deadly as ever from Austin.
He added another when Joe Cardle cashed in on a mistake and lined the striker up for a cool finish.
Elgin complete their League Cup campaign on Saturday away to League One side East Fife, who lost 1-0 against Dundee United tonight. The loser of that tie will finish bottom of the pack.
For the Moray men, the bigger picture at the end of a month disrupted in part by Covid in the camp, is their League Two opener at home to Stranraer on July 31.