Broomfield was the scene of yet another enthralling, top class amateur match on Saturday.
On a calm and benign day, both sides served up a feast of good play, unfortunately marred by some contentious decisions which influenced the outcome of the result.
Merpro started tentatively and went behind, after only two minutes. NCR swung in a dangerous corner-kick, with centre-half LEITH able to sweep the ball into the net,
The home side’s first opportunity came following a Craig Allan cross, cleared off the head of Graham.
A few minutes later, after good pressing play on the ‘keeper, a loose clearance fell for Bruce but his 25-yard effort at goal was hurried.
Merpro were keeping NCR pinned back and Graham broke through, with the ‘keeper saving at his feet and the ball cleared to safety in 28 minutes.
Merpro’s positive response was almost undone with a loose pass, allowing Tucker to get in behind the defence, but Lownie made a good low save to thwart NCR in 35 minutes.
Merpro resumed their attacking play with a fine move, involving Rausch and Duff who set up Craig Allan, but his 16-yard effort lacked enough power to trouble the ‘keeper.
Merpro’s good play was finally rewarded, following a foul on Whyte. Rausch floated in a free-kick, which fell for Euan DUFF to hook into the net from 12 yards, for a deserved equaliser in 42 minutes.
But just before the break, following a corner-kick, Leith found himself in space but he fired wide to bring a super first half to a close.
Half-time: Merpro 1, NCR 1.
After a half-time roasting, heard across the field, NCR came out quickly and pushed the Montrose side back.
As in the first half, they made an early breakthrough after the first of many contentious second half decisions. A cross from the right flank was strongly headed into the net by DUNCAN from eight yards, but only after he gained advantage by holding down and climbing over Duff, in his attempts to clear, in 48 minutes.
The next contentious moment arrived as Bruce burst forward into the box from a Rausch flick-on with full-back McGrath’s attempted tackle swiping him down, but the penalty claim was waved away.
Merpro continued to press, with a Bruce throw-in flicked on by Murdoch but Graham’s close-range header glanced over the bar.
NCR were pegged back but the excellent Tucker, always dangerous on the break, had a right wing cross palmed onto the bar by ‘keeper Lownie.
Merpro immediately hit back, with a quick-fire breakaway move from their own half. Rausch collected, to drive forward and set up Graham, who slipped a pass into the path of Euan DUFF. He ran in on goal at pace, before clinically lofting a 25-yard shot over the ‘keeper, to again equalise in 58 minutes.
Merpro had their opponents aggravated, and almost went ahead following a bulldozing run by Graham, setting up Rausch to fire in a 10-yard left foot shot, brilliantly turned over the bar by ‘keeper Carlin in 60 minutes.
Key moments change games and a couple of minutes later, DUNCAN found himself in space on the edge of the box and clinically fired a low shot into the net.
Merpro took a few minutes to regroup but came back with a Bruce run into the box, allowing Rausch to fire at goal, but blitz defending blocked his 12-yard effort.
NCR were being pinned back, but a breakaway created the next controversial moment. Duff, in foiling Tucker, appeared to be held down but, as the ball broke loose, brought down the attacker. As the whistle blew, the expected foul for Merpro turned into a penalty for NCR. Following the restoration of calm, CRUICKSHANKS converted for 4-2 in 72 minutes.
The Motown side gradually regained their composure and hit back with another good move in 80 minutes. Ferries broke on the right flank, to pass inside for Duff to sweep a cross into the box for Chris MILNE, who fired into the goal from 12 yards.
The fight back was quickly extinguished with yet another vexing decision with six minutes left. NCR gained a corner and as the ball came in to the box, Milne was held as he attempted to clear, handling in the process. Another penalty was awarded, amidst further apoplexy, and was again well converted by CRUICKSHANOS
Merpro opened up and pushed on in the final moments but were hit on the break, with DUNCAN running through in the last minute to clinically finish the match.
It was Merpro’s first MAFA defeat since November, amidst frustrating circumstances, but also credit to a clinically competitive NCR who maintain top of the table status.
Team: Lownie,Murdoch(Ferries), Whyte,Greig,N.Duff,G.Allan,Rausch, Bruce(Milne),Graham,C.Allan,E.Duff.
Match Sponsor: R Coull & Son.