Boss John Sheran couldn’t fault his players’ efforts after a fantastic goalkeeping display prevented Cove Rangers striking a fatal blow in the Highland League title race.
The Aberdeen side played out a 0-0 draw with Brora Rangers at the Balmoral Stadium, leaving the sides level on points at the top of the table, although Cove have two games in hand.
A man-of-the-match performance from Joe Malin in the Cattachs’ goal saw him stop efforts from Jamie Masson, Jordon Brown and Jordan MacRae as the home side tried to kill off their rivals’ charge.
Regardless, Sheran was pleased and thought Cove would have taken all three points on another day.
He said: “Big Joe’s a great keeper. We’ve got the same up our end with Stuart (McKenzie).
“We’ve played against him many, many times and he always pulls off the saves.
“That’s football, it didn’t quite happen in front of goal today, but we’re delighted with the performance.
“If you focus on the performance and not the result, we couldn’t have given any more or done any more.
“It was played at high tempo and both teams went for it from the start.
“Brora started better than we did, but for the bulk of the game after that we were the dominant team.”
Sheran said he would have given all of his players a “nine out of 10” and the title race still being alive, when last season it was over remarkably early, will boost his team.
He said: “For us, Connor (Scully) and Blair (Yule) in the middle of the park were outstanding.
“I would’ve given every one of the boys nine out of 10.
“We expect it to be a title race, we want it to be a title race.
“The players enjoy being stretched and pushed.
“That’s what this quality of game gives you.
“The players have shown they can go up a level and hopefully they can maintain that level until the end of the season.”
Paul McManus was back in the line-up for Cove after an ankle ligament injury, starting alongside Mitch Megginson, with both sides intent on attacking from the off.
Sam Burnett and Grant Campbell also returned to the bench after long-term knee injuries.
In a brutal stop-start opening, play was stopped for a clash of heads between Cove’s Megginson and Brora’s Ally Macdonald on the edge of the visitors’ box.
It was four minutes before it resumed.
When it did, John Pickles hacked down Cove’s Jamie Masson 25 yards out.
Masson took the set-piece, which came back off the wall. However, he hit the rebound flush on the volley and had it been anywhere other than right down Malin’s throat, it would have been the first goal.
On 40 minutes, Brown took down a high ball brilliantly in the box, but despite catching a left-footed strike well, the low shot was again saved by Malin.
Then, just before regular time in the first half was up, a sweeping move reached Brora’s Alexander Sutherland in the Cove box, but he could only send a right-footed drive into McKenzie’s side netting.
With five minutes of stoppage time played, Megginson lashed over a McManus knockdown in the half’s final chance when he should have buried it.
After the break, Cove built a sustained period of pressure. There was a huge chance on 66 minutes, Brown shaping to shoot from 25 yards, before he slid in McManus. The striker’s cross come shot from the right flashed across goal – with Megginson just too late as he attempted to throw his body at it and turn it in.
On 81 minutes, Malin again saved Brora. Sub MacRae made a great run through the middle and was found by the marauding Alan Redford.
MacRae hit his right-footed shot well, across the keeper, but Malin stopped it at full stretch.
Defender Scott Ross, excellent all afternoon, then shot wide at the resultant corner as the home team chased a dramatic winner.
On 87 minutes, Cameron Milne pulled a final Cove chance wide of the left post after good interplay with Megginson.