For the second time in the history, Tain Thistle were crowned Ross-shire Welfare League Champions following one of the most dramatic season finishes in the league's history.
Requiring three points to level Alness Athletic at the top of the league table at the end of July, Tain completed the league calendar on 26 points, the same as their Easter Ross neighbours with a 2-0 win on their rivals' turf. Tain boasted a goal difference of +3 more than Alness, and the head to head showed a dominant 4-1 aggregate score for the Jags over both league games. Nevertheless, league rules dictate that a play-off must take place if two teams end the season on the same points, to decide the championship.
Confident of winning the game on either park, Thistle manager Gary Ross surrendered home advantage and agreed to the game being played at Alness. In the end, the venue was irrelevant as the Jags were triumphant and walked out 7-2 winners - clearing any remaining doubt over who the best team in the Ross-shire Welfare league were in 2013.
The feat was something of an achievement for Ross and his team - having been reshaped top to bottom, bringing in a number of new players. The path to the league title was not without stuttering however.
Beginning the season early, the Jags got off to a mixed start in friendly matches. Despite winning five games, their momentum was chopped with a 1-0 loss to Embo in a friendly challenge cup game. The first round of the League Cup followed with another struggle against newcomers Fortrose Union. The Jags took the lead late on, but an equaliser and extra time winner for the Black Isle side saw the Jags knocked out of a cup at the first time of asking. A refereeing error left a dark cloud over the match, and Thistle were yet to find their stride.
It looked as though Thistle may have been hitting the right note in their first league game, going 3-0 up against Balintore at the Links however catastrophe followed as the Seasiders pulled the score back to 3-3. Adding insult to injury, the game was also being played for the Graham Jardine Memorial Quaich and a shell-shocked Tain lost out 5-4 on penalties. Altogether, May proved to be a disappointing start, winning only two of their six matches.
The 5th of June proved to be the turning point. Losing 2-1 to Social Club away from home, the gaffer was beginning to question whether or not the team was good enough to compete for the league. What followed a week later however would change the entire landscape of the title challenge. With the team 1-0 down at half time, Ross tore into his team and called upon the passion he had yet to see. In the second half, they delivered it in spades. Coming back, Tain finished the game 2-1 winners, leaving Alness stunned and the rest of the league taking notice.
From then, Thistle embarked on eight consecutive victories - a club record, during which Liam Rostock hit form, scoring three back-to-back hat-tricks. That run also saw the club secure their first trophy of the season, claiming the Coronation Cup for the first time in the unlikely location of Maryburgh, beating Fortrose 1-0. Chris Mailley scored the only goal of the game in what turned out to be the strike of the season.
Thistle's league challenge took an unfortunate turn in mid July. With the team appearing in back-to-back cup finals, it could be argued the team's focus was elsewhere, and they fell 3-2 to Cromarty at home. The defeat was Ross's first home loss as manager. A glance at the table saw that only a play-off could secure the title for the Jags, unless Alness were to slip up.
As it happened, Tain would need the play-off. Despite beating Social Club 6-1 and Fortrose 4-2, not to mention a confident 2-0 win away from home against the then champions Alness, the play-off proved unavoidable. The rest, as they say, was history - and Tain Thistle were crowned champions thanks to a nine goal thriller at Alness.
Adding to the accolades, Thistle were awarded the Charity Shield while Liam Rostock shared the Top Goalscorer prize with Alness striker Michael McKenzie. The club itself dished out awards at the end of the season, with Arron Christie deservedly picking up the Players' Player of the Year award and Liam Rostock, having already collected the Top Goalscorer Shield, was also awarded the Player of the Year prize from the Club Committee. Though not in attendance, John Maclellan was awarded Most Improved Player and Chris Mailley for his wondergoal at Maryburgh was awarded Goal of the Season.
Tain Thistle go into Wednesday's game against knowing nothing but a win will do to force the Ross-shire Welfare league championship into a playoff. A win could take the Jags ahead of their Alness rivals on goal difference, however Ross-shire Welfare rules state that if 1st and 2nd are on the same points, a playoff must be played. Gary Ross and his men will be looking to force that very issue, by closing the gap between the sides on Wednesday.
Since the club's Coronation Cup win, Thistle have lost only twice in eight games, but the defeat may have cost them dearly. Beating Cromarty 3-1 in the first round of the Seaboard Cup, Tain recorded a season record 11-2 win over Ross-shire Club only days later.
The Jags made in 8 wins in a row with an 8-0 win over Alness the last time the league contenders met on July 6th, in the semi final of the Seaboard Cup. Liam Rostock netted his third hat-trick in as many games, shooting him up the scoring charts.
The chance to win the league outright took a turn for the worse a few days later though, as the Jags fell 3-2 to Cromarty at home - Tain Thistle's first home defeat under Gary Ross since the gaffer took over in September 2012.
To make matters worse, Thistle's "bad week" continued, losing 2-1 to a home advantaged Balintore in the Seaboard Cup final. The Jags jumped back to winning ways the following Wednesday however with a 4-2 win over Fortrose Union.
With an eye on the Alness vs Cromarty game, Thistle did the necessary against Social Club a week later, recording a 6-1 win, however Alness kept their league lead with a 3-0 win over Cromarty.
Most recently, Tain continued their return to form with a 4-1 win over Balintore to reach yet another final - but the small matter of visiting Alness on Wednesday will take precedence for the time being.