Montrose Football Club’s troubled season continued at Borough Briggs on Saturday.
Despite a new management team, a heavy defeat to Elgin City, in conjunction with an away win for East Stirlingshire, saw the Links Park side drop, for the first time, into the dreaded relegation play-off place in League two.
New boss Paul Hegarty, and assistant John Holt, were left in no doubt as to the size of the challenge that lies ahead in the remaining 10 games, as they watched their team defeated at the hands of the Highland outfit.
After the home defeat to East Fife, which resulted in the departure of the management team of George Shields and Lee Wilkie, the new management team of Hegarty and Holt made three changes to the line-up, as well as making changes to the formation.
Out went Marvin Andrews and the injured duo of Crawford and McCord. In came Greg Cameron, Paul Watson, his first start since suffering a broken wrist at Arbroath, and Paul Harkins, against his former club.
The match began with the rain blowing in the favour of the home side and early exchanges were even, with Montrose trying to play a short passing game through midfield on a poor, uneven surface.
Garry Wood first to threaten in five minutes when, from a long-range Graham free-kick, he chested the ball just inside the box, swivelled and shot high over the bar.
Banjo, standing in at right full-back for the injured Crawford, was looking to get forward at every opportunity and from his cross the ball broke to ex-Elgin man Harkins but his shot from just outside the area was straight at the ‘keeper and comfortably saved.
Montrose had the woodwork to thank after a quarter of an hour, when a Cooper cross from the right was headed back across goal by Sutherland and, with McKenzie rooted to the spot, he could only watch, along with the 611 spectators, as the ball clipped the top of the post on its way past.
The opening goal came after 22 minutes, from a corner that was created by the pacy right winger Thomson, who would cause problems for the visitors all afternoon. The corner from the right was delivered into the middle of the goal area and, with a crowd of players challenging for the ball, ALLY GILCHRIST got the vital touch with either his head or shoulder knocking the ball past McKenzie to give Elgin the lead.
Gunn then blasted a 25-yard free-kick over the bar but, more significantly as it turned out, Ewan Moyes, who committed the foul in the first place, was booked for the offence.
There was a good opportunity when Campbell slipped a ball through the defence, putting Wood clear in on goal. The young stand-in Elgin ‘keeper, Black, was quick to react. Racing from his goal, he fell at Wood’s feet, on the edge of his area, to block the effort. The ball rebounded off the ‘keeper to Watson, who from 40 yards attempted to lob the stranded ‘keeper, but his effort drifted tamely wide.
In 32 minutes, Montrose won a free-kick which Watson delivered into the box and after a bit of a scramble the ball broke to Johnston, who touched it past his man, only to be brought down, leaving the referee no option but to point to the spot.
Captain Garry Wood took responsibility but could only watch in despair as his powerfully-struck, centrally-placed penalty caught the toe of the diving ‘keeper’s left foot, looping up and over the bar to safety. A rare miss for the Montrose number nine.
Only minutes later, this miss was to be compounded when a short Banjo pass forced Moyes to commit to a challenge that he couldn’t win, leading to an innocuous body check. It happened so quickly Moyes could not get out of the way and it looked like a situation where common sense would prevail, with only a stern word for the already booked defender, but the referee chose instead to play by the book and a second yellow saw Moyes make the long walk to the showers.
Hegarty was forced to reshuffle and Wood was moved from up top to centre half.
The second goal came after 40 minutes when a long through-ball split the Montrose defence and Graham was left chasing SHANE SUTHERLAND, who first out-muscled the defender, before slotting neatly past McKenzie into the bottom left corner.
A breakaway, right on half-time, saw Elgin striker Sutherland almost grab his second but McKenzie made a good save and from the rebound Thomson saw his effort blocked for a corner.
Just as Montrose thought they had done enough to see out the half, they switched off at the vital moment, as the corner was taken short and played to the edge of the box where MARK NICOLSON had time and space to take a touch and fire a shot, through the crowded area past the unsighted McKenzie, for a commanding 3-0 half-time lead.
Half-time: Elgin City 3, Montrose 0.
Both Allan and Banjo continued to venture down the flanks but, on the odd occasion when they did get to the bye-line, their crosses were high and wide.
Just after the hour mark, Allan fared better with a solo run that saw him beat three men, before firing a good effort across the ‘keeper but just wide.
Watson then had a great opportunity to threaten the Elgin goal with a free-kick 25 yards out and in a good central position. Unfortunately, as with many of the visitors’ set pieces, his effort hit the first defender and was easily cleared.
Montrose’s first effort at goal in the second half came in 70 minutes, when a neat flick from Campbell allowed Harkins to shoot from 20 yards, towards the top left corner, but again the young ‘keeper was equal to it.
Cameron then replaced Nicholson for Elgin and minutes later the home side completed the scoring. From yet another short corner, the visitors allowed a dangerous ball to be diverted into the box from the right, and from eight yards captain JAMIE DUFF glanced a header passed the helpless McKenzie into the left hand corner.
Seven minutes from the end Craig Johnston replaced Harkins for Montrose. Maclean and ex-Montrose man Jamie Reid replaced Gunn and Sutherland for Elgin.
Another disappointing afternoon for Montrose and far from the result that new management duo was hoping for.
MONTROSE – McKenzie, Banjo, Allan, Cameron, Moyes, Graham, S. Johnston, Watson, Wood, Harkins (C. Johnston), R. Campbell Subs not used – Andrews, Harwood, O’Neil, McCafferty.