STUART DESERVES BULK OF CREDIT FOR OUR STRONG START, SAYS COVE HITMAN MITCH
COVE Rangers keeper Stuart McKenzie has been praised for the vital save that ensured they maintained their 100% start in the Breedon Highland League.
Goals from Harry Milne and Paul McManus - his ninth of the campaign so far - gave Cove a 2-0 victory over Formartine United at Balmoral Stadium.
It was Cove's ninth straight league win and opened up an 11 point gap between them and Formartine, the side many are tipping to win the Highland championship this term.
Cove striker Mitch Megginson reckons they might not have won if Stuart hadn't saved Graeme Rodger's spot-kick, which was awarded for a handball by Milne - who was also sent off - in the 68th minute of the match.
"If Stuart hadn't made that save, with us down to 10 men, the result could have been a lot different," said Mitch.
"It's something he has done throughout the season, Stuart has made crucial saves in almost every match that we have played.
"We would never have remained unbeaten in the league so far without him, that's for sure.
"The penalty save against Formartine was particularly crucial because it came right after Harry had been sent off.
"If they had scored at that point it would have given them a massive lift and made it very difficult for us to go on and win.
"But Stuart's save seemed to knock the heart out of them and, even though we had a man less, we felt pretty comfortable for the rest of the match.
"The save came as no surprise to the rest of us, though.
"When the guy was getting ready to take the penalty I just knew Stuart was going to save it.
"There are few keepers who are better than him in those situations - I think that's three penalties he has saved this season already.
"That's no fluke, it's a testament to just how good a keeper Stuart is."
Mitch also applauded veteran skipper Eric Watson for the amazing last gasp tackle he made to stop Formartine striker Garry Wood slotting the ball into an open goal, when Cove were only 1-0 ahead.
He said: "It was an unbelievable tackle from Eric.
"If they had pulled it back to 1-1 it would have been a totally different game.
"Eric used all his experience and ability to get back in there and save the day.
"I doubt if there are many other defenders in the league who could have made that tackle."
Formartine are the hot favourites, in many eyes, to win the title this term, so Mitch is pleased to see some breathing space between themselves and the men from Pitmedden at such an early stage of the campaign.
"There is still a long, long way to go," he said.
"But if you had told us at the start of the season that we would win our first nine league games and find ourselves 11 points ahead of Formartine we would have taken that.
"We are pleased with what we have achieved because we've had some pretty tough matches within that run.
"It's a cracking start that any of the other sides would have been proud of.
"Even more so because we have also played very tough cup games most midweeks.
"The challenge now is to see if we can keep that run going.
"That won't be easy because every game in this league is tough."
The former Aberdeen striker is relishing the fact Cove don't have another game until a week on Saturday, when Keith visit Balmoral on league business.
"It will give us the chance to rest and recuperate," he said.