Brora Rangers fell to a 2-0 defeat against Kelty Hearts in their pyramid play-off first leg at Dudgeon Park.
The two sides finally met in a fixture which had been talked about since they won their respective leagues last season, prior to the pyramid play-offs being cancelled when Scottish football was initially suspended due to Covid-19.
The Cattachs survived two early let-offs, with Joe Malin incredibly saving penalties from Kallum Higginbotham and Nathan Austin within the opening nine minutes.
Kelty were not to be denied the lead through Dylan Easton’s stunning strike midway through the first half however, with the Lowland League champions doubling their advantage when Higginbotham converted their third penalty of the night early in the second half.
The result means Steven Mackay’s men have an uphill task when they travel to New Central Park for Saturday’s second leg.
Barry Ferguson’s men made the trip north having not played since January 9 but they looked sharp early on, with their first penalty arriving on just four minutes when Colin Williamson felled Higginbotham following Easton’s cross.
Higginbotham took on the spot-kick duties, but he was left red-faced as his attempted chip was read by Malin.
The Cattachs goalkeeper threatened to undo his good work four minutes later when he bundled Austin over as he bore down on goal, with referee Grant Irvine awarding a second penalty.
Malin redeemed himself in style by once again keeping the Fifers out though, diving low to his left to deny former Caley Thistle forward Austin.
Having come through the early scares, Brora needed to heed the warning signs to settle into the game. They carried occasional threat, with Bjorn Wagenaar sending a free-kick well over, while Andy Macrae saw an effort blocked following good link up with Greg Morrison.
There was little Malin could do to keep out Kelty’s opener on 22 minutes however, with Easton advancing to the edge of the box before unleashing a strike which swerved high past Malin into the top-left corner.
Easton came close to doubling his tally moments later with a strike which drifted just wide following a corner, while at the other end Jordan MacRae saw a goalbound effort blocked behind by Paddy Boyle in Brora’s push for a leveller.
Austin had the ball in the net again on 34 minutes when he charged down Malin following a short Ally MacDonald back pass, however the goal was disallowed for handball.
The Cattachs continued to push, with Macrae sending a low effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Kelty were awarded a third penalty of the night on 56 minutes when MacDonald was adjudged to have handled the ball as Ross Philp looked to go past him, with Higginbotham this time making no mistake in slotting the penalty past Malin.
Brora knew a goal back would give them aa lifeline ahead of Saturday’s second leg, with Mark Nicolson denied by an excellent fingertip save by Darren Jamieson after getting on the end of Wagenaar’s free-kick.
Malin had to show good reflexes to deny Austin a late third as he bore down on goal, with Kelty seeing out for the victory to take a major step towards a play-off final against Brechin City.