Lochness came calling at the Creagan Dubh and were promptly booted out of the Highland Amateur Cup by the Maroon Monster, Lochs FC.
The reigning Lewis and Harris League champions were the better side on the day although just a solitary strike, a spot kick from Robert Mackenzie, separated the sides after 90-pulsating minutes.
Highland Amateur Cup holders Wick Groats now await the Western Isles’ final remaining representative in the semi-final as Lochs begin to dream of a first Highland Amateur Cup final since lifting the trophy back in 2005.
Lochs went into battle without their charismatic stopper and on field organiser Peter Mackenzie and the crocked ball spraying quarter-back Angie Campbell. But in their place Andy Murray made a welcome return to the starting line-up while veteran striker Don ‘Lava’ Macleod also turned out for the Maroons.
It was the visitors who settled into the rhythm of the match quickest as they moved the ball from right to left and back again in the early stages. Lochs saw little of the ball on the opening exchanges although when they did burst forward they created far better chances.
The first two chances of the match both fell to player manager David Macmillan who, from the edge of the box, fired straight down the throat of the keeper and dragged a shot narrowly wide of the post.
Robert Mackenzie’s influence on the game began to steadily grow and he began to torment the Lochness right-back. Time and time again Mackenzie stomped on the throttle and motored past his marker who turned and failed so badly to keep pace that it was liked he was towing a caravan.
One of his regular charges up the flank took Mackenzie past the right back and beyond the centre back to the goal line where he slid and hooked the ball into the box where it was frantically cleared by a covering defender.
On the half hour mark Mackenzie was again in the middle of everything positive his side was doing. Another positive burst took him galloping towards the box where he toed the ball beyond the last defender who hung a leg out and sent the Lochs man tumbling into the box.
It wasn’t a stone wall penalty. It was more the stone wall, the chimeny and the guttering too. No doubt at all and the pictures from the match showed the ref was correct in his call that it was both a foul and well inside the area.
The Lochness players, and vocal bench, protested furiously before Mackenzie buried it from the spot, and crowned a personally all conquering spell of play in which he tormented the Lochness rightback so much he will have headed back on the ferry with twisted blood and a permantent look of panic on his chops.
It gave the maroons a huge lift and following the goal they began to boss the ball. John ‘Uig’ Morrison’s influence in the game grew as he snapped into tackles, moved the ball quickly and provided an almost impenetrable shield to his back four. Watching him play it is remarkable to think he lost almost seven years of football to a long standing back problem.
If I don’t play football for a month or two my first touch is so heavy it forces my second touch to be a tackle. But Morrison looks like he hasn’t missed a game. His form this season since returning has been remarkable and he was a key figure in steadying the ship and helping Lochs dictate the tempo.
Jim O’Donnell flashed a shot just wide as Lochs tightened their grip on the match before half-time. Lochness broke forward rarely with keeper James Macleod hardly called into serious action in the first-half.
At the start of the second-half Lochness tried to break forward but Lochs snuffed the danger quickly.
Lochs are not easily fazed or intimidated. A platinum reputation in this very competition and a handful of players who have been there, played it and won it still pulling on the maroon shirt.
John ‘Uig’ Morrison, Mackenzie and Macmillan wove their spidery webs increasingly closer to the Lochness keeper in a dominant second-half which had everything but the crucial second goal which would have allowed them to breathe a little easier.
Still, this is a low-scoring sport and things can turn in an instant. A single goal lead is a precious one as Lochs proved when a ball into the box was missed by the flying fists of keeper James Macleod before being hooked goalwards and booted off the line by Macmillan.
As the chances continued to pile up and go begging, the nagging doubt begins to grow that with such a slender lead Lochness might steal a goal from a set piece or on the counter attack. Except more misfortune was on the way for Lochness and this was entirely of their own doing.
Disagreeing with a referees decision isn’t something new in football and players from the amateur leagues to the upper echelons of international football do so in every single game. But the Lochness man took his protests way beyond the line with an expletive insult aimed directly at the man in the middle who flashed a straight red.
As the Lochness attacker looked skywards towards the flash of the red card, it prompted the decibel count to jack up to amp blowing levels. No one was more vocal than the Lochness keeper who seemed to be daring the ref to take even further action with a verbal tirade in his direction.
Don ‘Lava’ Macleod, Lochs record goalscorer and a player who has built a stellar island football career on timely charges and leaps in the box, found his goal compass a little off centre. In his defence he has played very little football in 2016 but two or three Macmillan deliveries into the box looked to be heading onto his forehead only to whizz just past.
O’Donnell passed up a pair of good sights of goal too for Lochs with one effort cannoning off his shoulder as he shaped to head the ball and another bouncing wide.
All Lochs lacked, perhaps, was a bit of precision in the penalty area, but it was as sustained a spell of dominance as you’re likely to see against a side at this late stage in the Highland Amateur Cup.
The closest Lochs came to a second goal came from that man Mackenzie again who did the hard work of a slaloming run beyond a number of lunging challenges and over despairing boots to create a chance to shoot at goal but he too snatched at his chance, throttling it and pulling it wide.
Macmillan had the ball in the net only for it be pulled back for offside before the end. Meanwhile O’Donnell drilled in another chance into the belly of the keeper from over on the inside left channel after springing the offside trap as Lochness appealed.