A failure to score in the first leg of last year’s SPFL pyramid play-off final proved costly for Cove Rangers – but there was no repeat on Saturday as they stormed to a 4-0 win against Berwick Rangers.
Only a dramatic capitulation in Saturday’s second leg will deny the Highland League champions a place in League 2 next term but, given the huge gulf between the sides at the weekend, such a scenario seems highly unlikely.
Almost 2,000 supporters were at Balmoral Stadium to see if Cove could realise their dream of reaching the SPFL through the play-offs at the third time of asking.
First-half goals from Sam Burnett and Mitch Megginson laid the foundations before second-half strikes from Jordon Brown and Jamie Masson gave the Aberdeen side a commanding lead to take to Shielfield Park.
Megginson said: “It was a great result but we’re taking nothing for granted as we’ve still got 90 minutes to play.
“We need to put in exactly the same kind of performance.
“I’m now just one goal short of 50 for the season and hopefully I can grab it on Saturday.
“I came off in the second half with a groin injury but we will assess it during the week.
“I’m always hopeful and will do everything I can to be fit for the second leg.”
Cove were at full strength apart from midfielder Grant Campbell, who is still recovering after a cruciate ligament operation, while Martin Scott was suspended.
Young midfielder Sam Burnett, now fully fit after also undergoing a cruciate operation, was a surprise starter. Berwick Rangers left former Peterhead left-back Aiden McIlduff on the bench.
The game’s first real chance fell to the home side inside six minutes when Harry Milne fed Megginson, whose 10-yard angled drive flew narrowly past the upright.
The pressure continued with Blair Yule’s stinging long-range drive well gathered by Ryan Goodfellow in the Berwick goal.
Cove almost broke the deadlock after 15 minutes, when Daniel Park’s deep free-kick was nodded back into the danger area by Scott Ross and Megginson’s shot on the turn was saved on the line by Goodfellow.
A goal was coming and Cove eventually made the breakthrough from a corner kick after 22 minutes, when Megginson’s shot was fumbled by Goodfellow, with Burnett in the right place to stab the ball over the line from a couple of yards out.
It took 34 minutes for Cove keeper Stuart McKenzie to be called into action when he dealt confidently with a Daryl Healy header.
Cove doubled their advantage eight minutes before the break when Darryn Kelly’s dangerous cross from the right found Megginson at the back post and his diving header flew into the back of the net for his 49th goal of the season.
Two minutes after the break, Kelly sent Megginson clear, but the prolific striker was denied his 50th goal of the season by the woodwork, with his drive crashing off the crossbar.
Megginson limped off in the 64th minute with a groin injury, but there was no let up from Cove.
They added a third when Berwick substitute McIlduff played the ball into the path of Cove midfielder Jordon Brown who stroked home, before former Aberdeen midfielder Masson got on the scoresheet when he crashed an angled 12-yard drive into the roof of the net to give Cove an impressive 4-0 victory.