Merpro visited Caird Park Stadium on Saturday, as they returned to Premier League duty. Both sides have been in good form recently and an even match was anticipated.
NCR started well and pushed Merpro back with some fast-paced play. Merpro slowly settled and had their first chance when Stephen laid off a pass for Greig, who fired his edge-of-the-box shot wide, in 8 minutes.
Both sides were testing each other but it was the home side who went ahead, with a fortuitous goal. A pass was fed through the centre of the Merpro defence but as Pert was about to intercept, he slipped on the wet surface. This allowed Middleton an unopposed run in on goal, and he scored from 14 yards, in the 11th minute.
Merpro tried to hit back with Riach hitting a couple of shots wide. The tempo of the match had now raised as both sides were getting into full flow. Lownie made an excellent low blocking save, coming out quickly to foil the dangerous centre forward Tucker in 22 minutes. Merpro heeded the warning and gradually began to dominate the midfield.
Bruce curled in a dangerous free kick, across the face of goal, with Riach almost getting a toe-end at the back post in 25 minutes.
Riach then flipped a lofted pass into the path of Ferries, who had made a determined run in behind the defence, but the ‘keeper was alert and came out to save in 30 minutes. Euan Duff then made a strong run on the right bye-line to slip in a low cross but Greig’s 5 yard back flip at goal was blocked to safety in 32 minutes. Rausch then created an opening for himself, curling a 20 yard effort just wide in 34 minutes. Merpro’s good play was rewarded just a few minutes later. Bruce floated a free kick into the heart of the box and Murdoch was held down by Leith as he attempted to connect and a penalty was awarded. Scott Riach stepped up to take responsibility and expertly scored, sending the keeper the wrong way to make it 1-1 after 35 minutes. Merpro continued to press forward with Bruce, having a fine match, making a strong run from midfield to fire in a low shot well held by the ‘keeper.
After some composed midfield play, Bruce set up Riach at the edge of the box but he fired his shot high and wide in 40 minutes.
Rausch was next to create a chance, after some nifty wing play, firing an excellent ball across the face of goal, which was cleared for a corner kick. From the resultant Rausch corner, Merpro had another good chance but Riach’s downward header went just wide.
NCR had survived and after a tentative start Merpro had gone onto assert themselves as the offensive side.
Half-time: NCR 1, Merpro 1
NCR came out fast and immediately pushed Merpro back with long balls into the box, similar to their first half start. Merpro held on and almost went ahead in 48 minutes. Bruce fired in a slow 25 yard effort, deflecting off Riach, with the keeper managing to scramble the effort wide.
However, following this effort, NCR began to take a stranglehold on the match, keeping Merpro pegged back in their own half.
Middleton had a good opening but fired wide as he latched onto a long ball, in behind the visiting defence.
The home side broke the developing deadlock, with another fortuitous goal from a corner kick, disputed as a goal kick. The in-swinging corner evaded the front post attackers and defenders and Greig was unlucky, as his attempt to clear sliced into the net from 6 yards, in 53 minutes.
The home side were pressing Merpro and went further ahead, following another corner kick, when a header fell for Middleton to score from close range in the 60 minutes to make it 3-1.
Merpro tried to galvanise themselves, as NCR were content to consolidate their lead, but were unable to find their first half fluency and passing.
Merpro made several changes without any immediate gain as NCR managed to stifle any attacking threat.
Graham had a close-range header go wide in 80 minutes and Nicol Duff had a looping header saved on the line in the closing minutes.
NCR ran out deserved winners in the end, maximising their superior height advantage and playing to their strengths in the second half.
Team: Lownie, Murdoch (Houghton), Ferries (Whyte), Greig, Pert, N. Duff, Rausch (Graham), Bruce, Stephen (Turriff), S. Riach, E. Duff (Robertson).