The opening fixture for Inverurie Locos and Cove Rangers in 2016 was played in high winds and swirling rain making for an uncomfortable afternoon for playing and spectating.
Locos had ended the auld year with a thumping 4-0 home win over Forres, while Fraserburgh had dented Cove's title chances by beating them 4-2. Next up for the Aberdeen side, they travel to Lanarkshire to face Motherwell in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
Without several unavailable players for various reasons, the visitors paired Stephen Jeffrey with young Daniel Crisp in central defence while transfer listed Marc Young was at right-back. Cove were without injured goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie and Alan Redford, while Connor Scully was on the bench.
It was the Red and Blacks that grabbed the lead in the 13th minute. John Maitland stepped up almost 25 yards out and his low free-kick deflected off the defensive wall leaving stand-in goalkeeper McCafferty wrong footed.
Scott Mathieson was having a torrid start to the proceedings, not through excessive pressure, but by just coming to terms with trying to get a ball to stand still for goal-kick taking. Eventually he used sand from behind his goal as an aid.
Cove had a fine chance through in-form Daniel Park but his long range free-kick went well over the crossbar.
Shortly afterwards, Mathieson could do little other than impede danger man Daryl Nicol when a ball bobbled in the box. Referee Chris Fordyce yellow carded the Fordyce resident and Nicol stepped up to send the spot-kick straight down the middle for the equaliser.
Stuart Walker was lucky to escape with a yellow card when he sent Maitland flying before the attention again turned to Mathieson as he had to turn Park’s shot on to his crossbar. There was a scrambled clearance before Nicol could pounce on the rebound.
The game was following an end-to-end pattern and the teams were evenly matched. But it was Cove that took the lead when possession was given away and new Cove signing from Wick, Grant Campbell, sent Nicol through into the box. The striker then carefully turned the ball into the corner of the net.
The lead was short lived as a quickly executed move sent Martin Laing through and the midfielder fired his shot home from close range.
The Aberdeen side went back in front within two minutes of the restart. Ex-Cove defender Jeffrey tripped Jamie Watt in the box and he got off with just a booking, but another penalty was awarded. Nicol again converted for his hat-trick and goal number 31 for the season.
Locos almost immediately equalised when Neil McLean struck an attempt straight from kick-off and the ball rebounded off the bar.
On the hour mark it was 3-3 as captain McLean's well flighted free-kick from his own half found another former Cove player, Michael Selfridge. The Inverurie forward then placed his header perfectly past McCafferty.
With the game heading towards a draw, it was birthday boy Joe McCabe, celebrating turning 19, who got on the end of a long throw-in and sent a half volley into the net for a memorable win.