Neil Cooper’s departure from Inverurie Locos on Friday would have come as a major surprise to the vast majority of Highland League followers.
The 60-year-old, a Scottish Cup winner during his playing days with St Mirren, was a shrewd appointment when he took over at Harlaw Park in January 2017.
Cooper, a former Aberdeen youth coach, inherited a side sitting 11th in the Highland League but he guided Locos to third in his first full season in charge before coming fifth last term.
He left with the club sitting in third spot after 12 games this term with nine wins and three defeats – only six points behind early pacesetters Buckie Thistle.
Cooper was unwilling to discuss the reasons behind his departure but admitted he was extremely disappointed to be leaving.
He said: “I’ve worked in football long enough that nothing surprises me anymore but I’m gutted.
“I’d like to thank the chairman and the committee for their support.
“I leave with the club joint second in the table after letting eight players go in the summer and signing Eric Watson and Callum Dingwall on free transfers and Sam Burnett on loan.
“I can leave knowing I’ve done my part.”
Andy Low and Steven Park took charge for Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie against Rothes and guided Locos safely into the third round with a 3-1 victory at Mackessack Park.
The club has invited applications to replace Cooper, although Low and Park may be given the chance to demonstrate they have what it takes to lead the team on a permanent basis.
There will be plenty of candidates interested in an attractive job in an ideal catchment area with a squad capable of competing near the top of the Highland League so the club will probably take its time to ensure the right appointment is made.
Meanwhile, Fort William will be looking to claim an SPFL scalp when Albion Rovers travel to Claggan Park on Saturday for their Scottish Cup second-round replay.
Last term was a nightmare for Fort, who finished bottom of the table without winning a game.
But they have turned things around this season under manager Russell MacMorran. The recruitment of nine youngsters on loan from Caley Thistle has played a large part in the club’s revival.
But no one can begrudge the hard-working committee members who stuck by the team during a difficult period the far more enjoyable afternoons like Saturday at Cliftonhill.
A 1-1 draw against Kevin Harper’s League 2 side earned the Fort a replay and they will have nothing to lose when the Wee Rovers travel to Lochaber this weekend.
Earlier this season the team gained plenty of headlines for ending its long winless run but knocking an SPFL side out of the Scottish Cup is a different proposition and, 12 months ago, something Fort could only have dreamed of doing.