A winning start for the Highland League champions as a first-half goal from attacker John McLeod ensured Buckie Thistle were able to celebrate the raising of the flag at Victoria Park on Saturday.
Much of the talk in the week before the start of the campaign had been about the future of Buckie captain Kevin Fraser after his trial at Championship club Caley Thistle, and the midfielder looked as though the speculation had drained him as he failed to have his usual impact on the match.
Despite the absence of suspended attackers Chris Angus and Drew Copeland, who were banned after their dismissals in the SPFL play-off semi-final against East Kilbride, Buckie created a succession of chances but Clach goalkeeper Dougie Maclennan was outstanding with impressive saves.
The visitors had their chances as well and could have snatched a point as they were left to rue missing a penalty.
Jags’ defender Craig Dorrat was delighted with the win and said: “It was a tough game for us against a very good Clach side, but we showed we can continue from where we left off last season. Clach could have equalised from the spot, although I’m not sure if it was a penalty or not. Ian Penwright hit it well but thankfully it hit the bar and was cleared away.
“John McLeod could have had a hat-trick, and it looks as though he is ready to carry on from where he left off last season.”
After a quiet opening Buckie were the first to show but goalkeeper MacLennan dived full length to brilliantly parry Sam Urquhart’s ferocious shot.
From the resultant corner kick the ball fell kindly for Urquhart but once again MacLennan was on his toes to beat away another fierce effort.
Clach were not merely content to play a bit-part role in this match and almost took the lead on the half hour mark, but Buckie goalkeeper Daniel Bell was able to block Stuart Leslie’s shot. Bell did even better two minutes later when he dived to touch a curling 25-yard James Beeston effort around the post.
The champions finally took the lead 10 minutes before the interval when Ross Anderson’s clever pass picked out McLeod and last season’s leading scorer showed great composure to tuck the ball past the advancing MacLennan from eight yards and into the net off the far post.
McLeod almost made it 2-0 a minute later but MacLennan brought off a stunning save to deny the former Fort William and Brora Rangers forward.
Last season Buckie made a habit of starting fast and scoring early but Clach were determined and driven and just six minutes after the break could have been on level terms but Michael Finnis’ header from a Blair Lawrie cross sailed high over the crossbar.
Then came the decisive moment in the match.
Clach were awarded a penalty on 57 minutes when Leslie was brought down in the box by Lewis MacKinnon. Penwright took the spot kick but his effort clattered back off the crossbar and Bell punched to safety.
A crucial miss.
Buckie’s second goal almost came in the 65th minute when Andrew Skinner’s deep cross from the right flank rebounded off the face of the crossbar with MacLennan beaten and with four minutes left it took a fabulous flying fingertip save by MacLennan to deny McLeod his second goal of the afternoon.
A winning start for Buckie, but Clach showed immense promise and goalkeeper Maclennan said: “I couldn’t have asked for any better from my own performance today and I think the whole team played well.
“I thought Ian Penwright’s penalty had gone in.
“I started to celebrate until I realised it had hit the bar, which was hugely frustrating for all of us.”