Brora Rangers 1 Montrose 0Montrose Football Club’s position in the SPFL will be decided in a winner takes all fixture at Links Park Stadium on Saturday. Marvin Andrews first half own goal gave the Highland League Champions Brora Rangers the lead going into the second leg and left Montrose’s league status after 60 years dangling by a thread.
There was little to chose between the sides on the day although the home side carved out the better openings on the bumpy pitch which made passing a difficultly for both sides.
It was Brora who got the luck on the day and Paul Hegarty must now look for his team to put in their performance of a lifetime to retain their league status.
The Brora Rangers side is packed with experienced former Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County players but they are certainly beatable and this must be drummed into the home players on Saturday.
Manager Hegarty made four changes to his side in this crucial fixture with Terry Masson, Marvin Andrews, Jonathan Crawford and Leighton McIntosh returning to the line up. It was McIntosh’s first starting appearance since the final match of 2014 against Elgin City. Out went Ross McCord, Ewan Moyes, Declan Milne and Ross Campbell dropping out. All four dropped to the bench.
Montrose lined up with McKenzie in goal with Cameron and Steeves in the full back positions. Andrews and Crawford teamed up again in central defence. Johnston and Webster were in the wide midfield positions with Mason and Watson in the centre of midfield. Wood and McIntosh teamed up in attack.
On the bench for the gable Endies were Campbell, Moyes, McCord, Allan, Graham, Milne and goalkeeper John McCafferty.
There was a very healthy Montrose FC travelling support in the crowd who had mad the almost 200 mile trip to support their side in one of the teams most important matches in the history of the club.
It was the home side who got the match underway on Montrose’s first visit to Dudgeon Park since 1983 with conditions overhead wet on what was a bumpy narrow pitch.
In the fifth minute Maclean was fouled by Webster. The Brora free kick taken by Sutherland was lobbed into the are but McKenzie was on hand to hold onto the ball.
Two minutes later Sutherland was fouled by Crawford and this time it was Andrew Steeves who was on hand to head clear the danger.
With ten minutes gone Graham Webster didn’t clear the danger properly and McKenzie was able to pounce on the ball to snuff out the danger.
Leighton McIntosh then won Montrose a free kick after he was tripped outside the area. Unfortunately for the Gable Endies Watson’s free kick was headed clear by the home defence.
In the following minute Scott Johnston’s corner kick was floated into the box only for the referee to penalise for pushing inside the area.
Another McIntosh shot won Montrose a corner kick but this time Andrews was penalised for pushing goalkeeper Joe Malin.
Montrose had a wonderful opportunity to open the scoring in the 20th minute. Webster played a delightful pass up the left wing which put Garry Wood through on goal with only Malin to beat, but has the keeper advanced the Montrose captain went for power and blasted the ball over the crossbar.
Three minutes later Webster latched onto a pass from Steeves but after beating three players inside the box he appeared to be brought down but referee Aitken waved play on.
The match was starting to hot up and in the 27th minute Steven MacKay became the first booking of the afternoon for a crunching tackle from behind on Terry Masson. From Steeves free kick Andrews headed down and over the crossbar.
Two minutes later the yellow card tally was evened up when Paul Watson was booked for catching Morrison when he got up for a centre circle challenge.
On the half hour mark a ball into the right channel was gathered by McIntosh and he managed to win a corner kick off Munro. Once again Montrose failed to put pressure on the home side and Crawford just missed Johnston’s corner kick.
Seconds later the Highland League champions almost managed to open the scoring but Martin Mclean couldn’t force home Sutherland’s cut back from close range.
Zander Sutherland then tested McKenzie but the Montrose keeper managed to gather the shot from the edge of the box.
Montrose then wasted another opening when a Scott Johnston corner kick found its way to Greg Cameron but he only succeeded in blasting once again over the bar from 20 yards out.
Disaster struck Montrose in the 38th minute when the home side opened the scoring. Joe Malin sent a punt up the pitch and MARVIN ANDREWS rose with Mackay only to succeed in sending a backward header flying into the back of his own net with Stuart McKenzie trying in vain to keep the ball out.
Montrose tried to hit back and won a corner kick on the stroke of half time through Steeves. This time goalkeeper Malin got up to hold the effort from Johnston.
In the 47th minute Richardson won a corner off Crawford. Sutherland took the kick but Montrose dealt with it comfortably.
Brora Rangers had a great chance to score a second goal in the 50th minute when top goalscorer Steven Mackay was clean through on goal but McKenzie was equal to the task and blocked the danger.
Three minutes later Zander Sutherland was in on goal but this time it was Marvin Andrews who got back to block the danger man’s shot for a corner kick.
Montrose were then forced into a change when the injured Greg Cameron was forced off with an ankle injury and Jordan Allan came on in his place. Masson moved to right back with Webster moving into the middle of the park allowing Allan to take up a wide left position.
Montrose won a free kick when McIntosh was fouled by Gillespie. Paul Watson lined up the free kick only to see his low 35 yard effort creep wide of the post.
In the 63rd minute Paul Watson when close again. The midfielder picked up a cross from Masson only to see Malin tip his netbound 25 yard shot over the crossbar.
With twenty minutes to go Watson picked up a pass from McIntosh but this time Malin tipped his curling low effort around the post.
In the following minute Montrose made a second change with last week’s two goal hero Ross Campbell replacing Johnston.
McIntosh then won a free kick on the touchline that was taken by Watson, but it just missed Campbell at the back post.
With 15 minutes remaining Brora Rangers had a rare second half opportunity when Gavin Morrison let fly from 30 yards out but his effort when well over the crossbar.
Montrose made their final change of the match a minute later when Declan Milne came on up front for Leighton McIntosh.
The Gable Endies were almost caught out when Brora Rangers broke quickly from a Montrose corner kick. Sutherland found Mackay but Jonathan Crawford got across quickly to put in a great saving tackle. From Sutherland’s corner kick McKeown headed over the crossbar.
With five minutes remaining Montrose had another good chance to grab the equaliser Garry Wood broke up the left and raced into the box as he was on the point of shooting a great saving tackle put the ball out for a corner kick. From Ross Campbell’s corner the ball was missed by Malin and Richardson had to hack the ball off the line to stop the equalising goal.
Milne then flicked the ball on to Wood who was clattered into by Grant Munro who rightly picked up a yellow card.
Three minutes into stoppage time Zander Sutherland found himself through on goal with only McKenzie to beat but he blasted wide keeping Montrose in the tie.
Seconds later Gavin Morrison became the third Brora Rangers player to be booked this time for fouling Jordan Allan. Unfortunately for Montrose Paul Watson fired his effort into the arms of Malin and with it any chance of a Montrose equaliser.
Now it’s back to Links Park on Saturday with it all to play for.