Daryl Nicol scored early in the second half to give Cove victory over Formartine, leaving them requiring only four points from their last three games to take the title.
Both teams came into the game knowing that whoever won this match would have the title to lose. Nicol’s goal early on into the second half was the difference between the sides, in a match which featured returns for Andy Reid, Paul Lawson and a substitute appearance from Jamie Masson.
The win for Cove leaves them level on points with Brora but the Aberdeen side have two games in hand. Meanwhile it leaves Formartine six points behind the two front-runners but they also have two games in hand. Cove only require four points from their remaining three games away to Fort William, Clach and Turriff United to be the Press and Journal Highland League champions.
Formartine had the best of the opening exchanges, but it was Cove with the first shot on target when Grant Campbell’s low drive was collected comfortably by the returning Andy Reid.
Despite the early dominance from United, they were restricted to long range efforts, with Callum Bagshaw seeing his go narrowly past the right post. The visitors were missing the suspended Garry Wood and with Scott Barbour and Neil Gauld up top they didn’t have much of an aerial presence.
The first real opportunity fell to the usually clinical Jonny Smith after he was sent through one-on-one with Reid, but the keeper spread himself to deny Smith the opening goal.
The home side’s fans thought they had taken the lead when Eric Watson had a chance from six yards, but his volley was weak and into the hands of Reid.
Cove came out for the second half like a dog chasing a rabbit and within minutes they had taken the lead. Nicol picked the ball up on the edge of the box from Stuart Walker’s pass, beat his man and drove into space inside the box before putting it under Reid to open the scoring.
Only minutes after the goal the home side nearly doubled their lead but Blair Yule’s cross-shot was missed by Jonny Smith and Nicol at the back post.
The visitors had a strong claim for a penalty when Watson appeared to bundle over Bagshaw in the box, but nothing was given apart from a yellow card for the visiting midfielder.
The visitor’s best opportunity fell to Graeme Rodger mid-way through the half after Barbour’s flick on found him on the six-yard line, but his header could only find the gloves of Stuart McKenzie.
Nicol should have doubled Cove’s lead after he beat the offside trap but unfortunately for him he couldn’t beat Reid. Nicol then had another opportunity but his effort from the edge of the box didn’t have enough power to beat the goalkeeper.
Cove had to survive a late Formartine charge but despite United having so much of the ball they couldn’t create a thing, with McKenzie only really having to come and collect crosses.
United were lucky not to find themselves down to 10 men late on after Hamish Munro brought down Nicol when he was clean through, but referee Mat Northcroft didn’t see it that way and showed the Formartine full-back a yellow card.
In injury time the Formartine players and staff were livid after a heavy challenge on substitute Cammy Keith, but Northcroft waved away their penalty claims and this result could potentially mean waving goodbye to Formartine’s title aspirations.