Peterhead started 2022 with a 1-0 defeat in bizarre and controversial circumstances from League 1 leaders Cove Rangers at Balmoor.
The Blue Toon more than matched Paul Hartley’s high-flying outfit however a late goal from Balmoral Stadium goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie separated the sides with hosts finishing with ten-men after Jason Brown was dismissed when an injury time equaliser from the defender was ruled out.
With Josh Mulligan ruled out, through suspension, skipper Scott Brown returned to the Blue Toon line-up in an unfamiliar right back role with Andrew McCarthy also back and starting in place of the injured Grant Savoury.
One-time Celtic, Dunfermline and Brechin City player Scott Cusick made a surprise appearance as trialist for Jim McInally’s side in place of the on-loan Flynn Duffy who dropped out after being injured in a bounce game for parent club Dundee United.
Fit again player/ coach Simon Ferry was on the bench with recently signed on-loan goalkeeper Sean Diamond from Broughty Athletic joining him there in place of Lenny Wilson who was injured in training this week.
After a tense opening Cove created the first chance on nine minutes when former Peterhead striker Rory McAllister sent Robbie Leitch through on goal with a slipped pass however Brett Long got down to save.
The visiting Morgyn Neill picked up the game’s first booking six minutes later when he halted the progress of Ryan Duncan who was making his first start for the hosts.
Neither goal was threated for the next 13 minutes until McAllister latched on a Fraser Fyvie pass and bore down on goal only to fire into the side-netting.
The Cove duo combined again on 30 minutes however this time it was Fyvie who burst clear however his ball across the home side’s goal found no takers.
Peterhead created real danger shortly afterwards when Duncan picked out Russell McLean and the towering striker rose above the visiting defence however his header slipped wide of McKenzie’s goal.
McLean picked up a booking on 35 minutes for what was viewed as simulation in the Cove box by referee Roncone with McAllister almost opening the scoring five minutes later when he cracked a shot past Long only to see it hit the woodwork and bounce to safety.
Just on the break Peterhead came close again when Ritchie fired for goal after clever build-up play with McLean however McKenzie was equal to his effort.
Cove threatened early into the restart through McLean and Leighton McIntosh however their parting efforts were off target.
Peterhead started to get on top and that man McKenzie saved his side twice in quick succession just after the hour mark by firstly keeping out Niah Payne’s drive from the edge of the box and then reacting quickly to prevent McLean from pouncing on the loose ball.
Jason Brown was booked for a foul on ex-team-mate McAllister just before Duncan darted deep into enemy territory only to fire wide of goal.
With 15 minutes left captain Brown harried and hustled the visitors into giving the ball away in their own half before sending a chipped effort over the bar.
McAllister nodded a Cove chance wide before it looked like Duncan had the chance to win the points for Peterhead with four minutes left when he again skipped into the Cove box to receive a fine Scott Brown pass however his shot was deflected into the arms of McKenzie.
The shot-stopper then launched the ball forward and disaster struck in the home goal as Long, under pressure from McAllister, allowed the kick-out to bounce through his hands and into his goal.
McAllister tried to claim the goal however it was the goalkeepers.
The drama did not end there as Peterhead should have equalised straightaway after substitute Derek Lyle picked out Scott Brown who fired the ball to the back post where Danny Strachan teed up McLean however the striker’s effort was blocked.
Peterhead refused to give up and after manager McInally was asked to leave the side of the pitch on the insistence of the stand side linesman they thought they had scored a last gasp injury time equaliser.
Duncan looped a cross into the visitor’s box and Jason Brown fired home after McKenzie had dropped the ball under pressure from Scott Brown however referee Roncone decided that there had been a foul and ruled out the strike.
Both Browns were booked and a second yellow meant a red for Jason.
Peterhead – Long, McCarthy, Cusick (Strachan 52), McDonald, Jason Brown, Duncan, Ritchie, S Brown, McLean, Cameron (Jordon Brown 83), Payne (Lyle 77).
Unused subs – Ferry, Diamond (G/k)