A match of ifs, buts and maybes for Buckie Thistle.
There is still all to play for after the first leg of the SPFL play-off, but after building a commanding two-goal lead at Victoria Park against Lowland League champions East Kilbride, the frustration of not having a lead to take to K-Park for Saturday’s return leg was obvious.
The match started perfectly for Buckie manager Graeme Stewart’s men who led 2-0 up after 32 minutes with goals from Chris Angus and a Sam Urquhart penalty, but a 44th minute goal from Paul Woods and substitute Russell McLean’s deft 84th minute header tied the game.
Buckie midfielder Ceiran McLean insists his side is still in with a great chance in next week’s second leg, when he said: “We gave away a couple of soft goals, it was not like us to defend like that, but we will go down there confident and I’m pretty sure we can do a job.
“We were 2-0 up and if we had gone in with that lead at the interval we would have been full of confidence to have gone on and won the game, but the goal just before the break made us a bit flat for the second half.”
Buckie made one change to the side which won the Highland League seven days earlier with a 9-0 home win against Strathspey Thistle with Stuart Taylor coming in for Kai Ross who dropped to the bench while East Kilbride fielded former Jags goalkeeper Matt McGinley.
Buckie, trying to become the first Highland League team to earn promotion to the SPFL through the play-offs after defeats for Brora Rangers and Cove Rangers, had a great escape in the fifth minute when Sean Winter’s 12-yard drive clattered back off the face of the crossbar and Daniel Bell in the Buckie goal did brilliantly to block the rebound from Joao Victoria.
A shock, but the response was rapid and effective and in the ninth minute Buckie had the lead when Urquhart crossed to Angus who controlled the ball before hammering it low past the goalkeeper from eight yards.
The goal was the 100th goal of the season scored by the trio of Angus, Urquhart and leading-scorer, John McLeod, but East Kilbride were again quick to show their attacking intent and Bell was in the right place to hold a close-range Victoria header.
At the other end McGinley had to dive full length to beat away a ferocious 20-yarder from Urquhart in a fast and furious encounter.
The Jags doubled the advantage in the 32nd minute when Angus was tripped just inside the box by Fabio Capuano, referee David Munro pointed to the spot and Urquhart sent McGinley the wrong way to double his side’s advantage.
Game over? Far from it and a minute from the break East Kilbride pulled one back when Victoria beat Bell to a bouncing ball which broke to Woods and he had the simplest of tasks to score from eight yards.
Buoyed by the goal East Kilbride pressed early in the second half and Bell brilliantly blocked a point-blank Adam Strachan shot as the visitors went in search of the equaliser while Shaun Carrol was inches wide with a curling 22-yard free kick as play swung from end-to-end.
Buckie had to hold out, but couldn’t and with just four minutes to go East Kilbride equalised with a glancing header from giant substitute McLean who beat Bell to a long throw in.
Tempers were frayed and in added time Stewart was sent to the stand for trying to wrestle the ball off an East Kilbride player at a Buckie throw in.
East Kilbridge goalkeeper McGinley is confident his side can progress, and said: “We struggled at the back in the first half hour and were in trouble after losing two soft goals, but then we got a grip of the game, really came into it and getting those two goals back was a good result for us.
“We will start as favourites next weekend.
” I don’t think I had a shot to save in the second half after we matched Buckie’s physicality, and I think we were much the better team.
“If we can get to grips with Buckie early on next week then hopefully we can go through and book our place in the final.”