John McLeod’s 40th goal of the season could turn out to be a priceless one in Buckie Thistle’s Press and Journal Highland League title quest.
McLeod’s strike earned Thistle three valuable points against 10-man Wick Academy to boost their chase for a first Highland League title since season 2010-11.
The Jags dominated the 90 minutes against the men from Caithness but just could not find a way past resolute defending from the visitors until the 54th minute when McLeod struck his match winner.
McLeod could easily have had a hat-trick on the day as he got into great positions with some positive running. He hit the bar with another great effort and also shot narrowly past on two occasions when through on goal.
Buckie were also not in the mood to concede at the other end, with man-of-the-match Hamish Munro and Lewis Mac-Kinnon outstanding as they limited Wick to few efforts on goal.
Munro was delighted to play his part in what he said was a must-win game to keep his side in contention at the top of the table.
He said: “Every game now is one where we want to get three points as the run-in builds. We know that teams will push us and it is up to us to rise to that challenge.
“I have played with Lewis MacKinnon before at other clubs, so we know each other quite well. But, as the season has gone on, we have got to know each other’s strengths better and we have built a good partnership.
“It was bit strange having a league double-header with Wick, especially at this time of the season but if you look at the chances we have had over the two games we deserved to get the six points.
“John McLeod kept up his really good season with another goal”.
Buckie started on the front foot, with McLeod sending an angled drive wide after just eight minutes before Drew Copeland was denied the opener shortly afterwards as Danny Mackay brilliantly blocked the forward’s close-range effort on goal after MacKinnon had set up the chance.
The play was flowing towards the Wick goal and Sam Mackay cleared another shot on goal from Copeland off his own line.
Thistle could have gone behind midway through the half when the impressive Ross MacIver broke through the Buckie rearguard but a combination of great defending from Munro and Craig Cowie denied the Wick forward.
Kevin Fraser was next to go close for Thistle, firing a shot just wide from 10 yards. Cowie should have broken the deadlock eight minutes from the break but he just could not find the direction to send a six-yard header into the net following a Sam Urquhart pull back.
That was Cowie’s last action as he had to be substituted with a shoulder injury shortly after the break, but his replacement made an instant impact setting up the goal which was to prove vital.
Jay Cheyne found space on the right hand side of the box with his first touch of the ball after 54 minutes to pick out McLeod, who fired an eight-yard shot through the legs of goalkeeper Sean McCarthy to delight the Buckie support.
McLeod should have made it 2-0 four minutes later but he blasted a shot against the face of the bar from 10 yards with only the goalkeeper to beat.
A Michael Steven header caused Buckie goalkeeper Daniel Bell to scramble across his line to collect the ball as Wick looked for an equaliser.
It was not long before the action was back at the other end as firstly Craig Dorrat blasted a free kick from 18 yards against the Wick wall before Thistle were looking for a penalty as McLeod looked to have been impeded by Brandon Sinclair but referee Matt Northcroft waved away the appeals.
Wick finished with 10 men as Sam Mackay saw red as the game entered injury time after the midfielder was adjudged to have displayed violent conduct. Mackay was disappointed with the decision, expressing his surprise to see the red card as he felt there was very little in the altercation. He said: “We had to work really hard but we couldn’t find enough to get us back on level terms after going behind.”