Locos played for more than an hour with 10 men as they continue to find solace in the Highland League Cup after an impressive victory at Mackesack Park. A fine start saw goals from Callum Duncan and Greg Mitchell put the Railwaymen in control before Greg Morrison reduced the arrears ahead of Nathan Meres’ red card. Locos weren’t to be denied though as they showed real determination to limit the Speysiders to few clear opportunities.
New loanee Myles Gaffney started the game and there was also a first competitive game for Zack Ellis in goal. Not for the first time this season, Locos started the game brightly, but were able to show it on the scoreboard. After an early Logan Johnstone effort had been comfortably dealt with by Sean McCarthy in the Rothes goal, Duncan opened the scoring with 9 minutes on the clock. Skipper Mitchell, so impressive throughout, drove up field with the ball. After exchanging passes with Meres he found Gaffney who in turn found Blair Smith in the right channel. McCarthy saved Smith’s cross shot but the ball fell to Duncan to tap home.
The lead was doubled just 5 minutes later, Mitchell applying a lovely left footed finish after another fine move with Gaffney and Duncan again involved. At that point Locos were cruising but a little bit of sloppiness allowed Rothes to put a bit of pressure on and get back into the game as Greg Morrison slid in to score at the near post from Garry Kerr’s low centre from the left. It was very much game on at that point, and just a couple of minutes later the odds swung firmly in favour of the home team. Meres, whose pace had already been causing problems, had the beating of Kerr down the right flank. The Rothes man wrapped his arms around Meres to hold him back and, with both referee and assistant slow to award the free kick, Meres tried to shake him off. After consultation with his assistant, the referee concluded an elbow had been used and produced a red card.
Locos were adamant Meres was simply trying to wriggle free of Kerr and the frustration was clear to see for the rest of the half. However, for a team that has been low on confidence, Locos response to conceding and losing a player was excellent. Alan Pollock fired narrowly wide shortly afterwards as Rothes looked to push home their numerical advantage, but after that scare the Railwaymen were able to get through to half time reasonably comfortably. They continued to foray forward when they could, Gaffney twice taking aim but failing to trouble McCarthy unduly.
The second half became fractious as Locos dug deep to defend their slender lead with Rothes seeing a lot of the ball. Ellis was called into action early, doing well to tip a Fraser Robertson volley over the bar. As the yellow cards piled up, some more justified than others, the 10 men of Locos continued to keep the hosts at arms length, reducing them to speculative efforts. There were a few nervy moments but Ellis wasn’t called upon too often.
With a few minutes remaining, Mitchell got his second of the afternoon to release the tension. He slipped the ball to substitute Cole Anderson before continuing his run into space. Anderson picked him out and he gleefully thumped home before executing a flawless knee slide towards some of the visiting fans. There was more drama to come though. After Anderson had come close to adding a fourth with a shot across goal, Liam McDade found the top corner with from the edge of the area to reduce the deficit again two minutes into time added on. It was a very good finish, although there were strong suspicions of handball as he controlled a Locos clearance. That made for a nervy few minutes, during which Bruce Milne headed against the crossbar, but Locos held out for a deserved win to set up a trip to Brechin City in the next round.
Locos and their supporters were delighted at the final whistle. Not only had they secured just their second win of the season but had done so in impressive fashion, getting themselves into a great position through some excellent attacking play before really digging deep to keep themselves ahead. Rothes will be disappointed that they couldn’t do more with the extra man, their final ball often going awry. Neither team were happy with the referee by the time he blew the final whistle. Locos felt a number of decisions went against them, notably Meres’ sending off, and perhaps quicker action by the officials would have prevented that incident flaring up. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game. For their part, Rothes felt a Paul Coutts yellow card in the second half could easily have been red.
Locos are back in league action next week. Brora isn’t necessarily the best place to visit for a team looking to regain some form and confidence but this result – and performance – will have helped no end and Andy Low will be hoping for another strong performance.