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Avoch secure seventh Highland Amateur Cup triumph as Stuart Leslie helps Black Isle outfit past Wick Groats

By Alan Hendry

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Manager Martyn MacAllister said he reckoned the celebrations could last for up to a week after Avoch lifted the Highland Amateur Cup for the seventh time in their history.

A second-half strike by Stuart Leslie gave the Black Isle outfit a 1-0 win against old rivals Wick Groats in a scrappy, bruising final on Saturday.

It was tetchy at times and chances were at a premium – but MacAllister admitted he "couldn't really care less" about the lack of flowing football on show at Wick's Harmsworth Park as Avoch landed the trophy for the first time since 2017.

“I can't believe it – it's going to take a while to sink in," MacAllister said after the trophy presentation. "I'm absolutely delighted for the lads.

“It has been a tough cup run to get here but they've been brilliant, they've been absolutely excellent, and they deserved it today.

Twin brothers Keith (left) and Colin Mason lift the Highland Amateur cup to the delight of the players. Club captain Colin was injured and couldn't play in the final. Keith was captain on the day.
Twin brothers Keith (left) and Colin Mason lift the Highland Amateur cup to the delight of the players. Club captain Colin was injured and couldn't play in the final. Keith was captain on the day.

“I thought we were the better team. I didn't think it was the best of games, far from it, but I couldn't really care less – it's all about winning the trophy and that's all that matters to me.

“I don't think I've been involved in many cup finals that have been pretty. There was a lot of nerves involved in it too, but I thought we dealt with it better and I thought we deserved to win the game.

“All credit to Kevin [Anderson, Wick Groats manager] and his boys – they're always there or thereabouts. I've got a lot of time for them.

“They're a good group of lads and they'll be back again next year as well, no doubt about it."

Avoch are the second most successful club in terms of Highland Amateur Cup wins. Saturday's success means they are now just one behind eight-time winners Pentland United.

“I saw a stat that it's 12 finals out of the last 18 years we've been involved in, since 2004," MacAllister said.

“Pentland United are obviously in front. At the start of the competition the three teams that are bandied about are ourselves, Pentland United and Groats, and there's a reason for that.

“But we're just going to enjoy the next day or two, or week maybe, however long the celebrations go on for.”

When the decisive moment came, after 53 minutes, there was more than a touch of fortune about it as Leslie sent a high ball into the danger zone from the left edge of the penalty box.

It looked more like an attempted cross than a shot, but either way it looped over the diving Kieran Macleod and went in at the far post.

Leslie admitted: “I think I'd be lying if I said it was intended as a goal, but it was put into the right area and if you don't buy a ticket you don't get a chance to win it.

“It was a bit fortunate but I think we deserved it in the end. It was a proper final. It probably wasn't the best for the neutral to watch, but on the balance of play we won the battle and came away with the win.”

Groats had to make an early change when Alan Mathieson hobbled off after eight minutes.

The first clear chance of the match fell to Groats about 10 minutes before half-time when Jonah Martens picked out Steven Anderson in space on the edge of the box, but keeper Neil Hastie reacted quickly and was able to smother the striker's shot.

Avoch broke downfield immediately and a hooked effort by Ian Penwright bounced off the top of the bar.

Avoch had an opportunity to put the issue beyond doubt in the closing stages when Leslie picked out the unmarked Dean Wallace but the newly introduced substitute knocked the ball over the top.

Wick Groats manager Kevin Anderson said: "There wasn't much in the game.

"We had a great chance in the first half that fell to Steven Anderson. It was a good save from the keeper but Steven was a bit gutted with himself, he thought he could have done better.

"I thought it was quite a scrappy game from both teams. There weren't many chances either way."

Commenting on the goal, Anderson said: "Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. It goes for you or it goes against you, but it was probably a cross-cum-shot that has ended up in the back of the net. There are fine lines in football.

"We're obviously disappointed but it has been a great season. At the end of the day we can be proud of what we've done this year – we've won three out of five trophies.

"The league title was the number one priority at the start of the season and we've got that in the bag.

"Of course we would have wanted to win today. Of course we're disappointed. But you use days like today to fuel you going forward.

"We'll just need to take it on the chin."

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