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Highland League: EVERY game previewed as on-loan Buckie Thistle goalkeeper Tom Ritchie talks up title race

The Aberdeen goalkeeper is loving being part of the Jags' push for Breedon Highland League glory.

Tom Ritchie in Highland League action for loan club Buckie Thistle.
Tom Ritchie in Highland League action for loan club Buckie Thistle. Image: Brian Smith.

Tom Ritchie is embracing the high stakes which come with playing at loan club Buckie Thistle in the Breedon Highland League.

The 21-year-old goalkeeper joined the Jags in February on loan from Aberdeen, where his contract runs until 2025.

Ritchie has now found himself in the mix of a title race with Buckie looking to secure the Highland League title – and the goalkeeper is relishing the pressure.

Buckie, who sit fourth with 55 points, host Inverurie Locos at Victoria Park on Saturday looking to close the gap on their top-of-the-table rivals.

Ritchie said: “This has been a different sort of challenge to what I am used to. I’ve not really been at a team that is expected to and has to go win every week.

“I’ve loved it and I think it is the kind of situation you want to be in as a player. You want to have the pressure of winning every game and I love having that expectation on me.

“The team are feeling confident. We have had a few slip ups and hopefully last Saturday against Lossiemouth was the last of them.

“Hopefully, we can just kick on now. It was a big win against Banks o’ Dee on Wednesday night.

“There can be highs and lows in football, but we know we’ve got a good group and we’re all desperate to go and win the league.

Buckie Thistle goalkeeper Tom Ritchie makes a save in a Highland League match against Banks o' Dee.
Buckie Thistle goalkeeper Tom Ritchie makes a save in a Highland League match against Banks o’ Dee. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

“Saturday against Inverurie will be a tough game, but every game is tough.

“Every team wants to beat us, but that is what happens when you’re one of the best teams in the league.”

Ritchie, who previously spent time on loan in the Highland League with Huntly and had a spell at Peterhead last season, felt it was vital to go out on loan again this term.

The goalkeeper added: “Coming out on loan was what I wanted all season, but, with Aberdeen being in Europe I wasn’t able to get out on loan.

“When the Buckie opportunity came up I grasped the opportunity in a heartbeat. For me, it was all about coming here and getting to play games.

“I’m definitely noticing a big impact in my training now that I am playing games. I feel a lot sharper because there is nothing better than playing games.”

Meanwhile, Inverurie Locos boss Dean Donaldson wants his side to put their stamp on the game at Victoria Park as he believes all the pressure is on the title-chasing home side.

Locos are on a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions, including wins in the Evening Express Aberdeenshire Cup which set up a clash with Buckie in the final on April 17.

Donaldson said: “We’re under no pressure. All the pressure will be on Buckie and they will come out wanting to win the game.

Inverurie Locos manager Dean Donaldson.
Inverurie Locos manager Dean Donaldson will look to best Buckie Thistle in the Highland League this weekend. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

“For us, it is all about trying to progress and to keep improving. There has definitely been progress. There is no question about it, so we just need to go and put our own stamp on the game.

“We just have to play our own game like we have been doing over the last few weeks and we have been coming out with results.

“I’d like us to get out and test their backline. To get in behind them and create chances.

“We’ve got to do the right things in the right areas. The last few games we’ve been getting in the right areas, but our final ball or pass hasn’t always been there, so I want us to be a bit better in those kind of situations.”

Donaldson should have a full squad to pick from against Buckie, with Greg Mitchell back in contention for selection.

Brora target fourth successive win

Brora are in a confident mood ahead of their home showdown with fifth-placed Formartine United.

The Cattachs’ 2-1 midweek win against Nairn County lifted them over their beaten opponents into sixth spot and to within four points of Formartine with a game in hand.

It followed a rout 10-1 rout of Strathspey Thistle and a hard-earned 1-0 win at Forres Mechanics and player-manager Ally MacDonald expects a stern test from a Formartine side who are 10 points behind leaders Brechin City, having played one game fewer than the Angus front-runners.

He said: “This is another really tricky game, but we want to go and test ourselves.

“We have come through a difficult spell and, no disrespect to other teams, but every opponent recently has been at a higher level, with Forres higher than Strathspey and then Nairn before we now play Formartine. These are the teams we want to be up there challenging with.”

Brora Rangers' Jordan MacRae. Image: Jasperimage.
Brora Rangers forward Jordan MacRae is available for the weekend. Image: Jasperimage

MacDonald was delighted to see James Wallace tuck away the crucial goal with two minutes left against Nairn and he insists Brora can round off this season on a high note, despite the title chances vanishing in recent weeks.

He said: “Grinding out results by scoring late goals is something that teams at the very top of the table do on a regular basis. It’s important for us to have that in our locker, to have someone come up with a key moment to make a difference.

“We have a lot of proud boys in our dressing room and we want to finish as high as we can in the league. We’re not good enough to turn it on and off when we want to.

“We’ve a big Highland League Cup final coming up (against Fraserburgh) on March 30, so as much as players are fighting for places, we have to keep momentum going and hopefully we can take confidence into that cup final.”

Brora welcome back striker Jordan MacRae, but will still be without on-loan Caley Jags midfielder Lewis Hyde due to an ankle ligament injury and winger Max Ewan is out long-term with a broken wrist.

Formartine United manager Stuart Anderson. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Injuries stack up for Formartine

After a mini dip in form from their high standards, Formartine returned to winning ways by seeing off Huntly 3-1 last weekend.

Injuries rule out defenders Rhys Thomas and Lewis Wilson, midfielders Daniel Park, Graeme Rodger, Aaron Norris and Kevin Hanratty, while defender Ryan Spink misses out through work commitments.

Manager Stuart Anderson said: “We have a few injuries, but we’re looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a good game, with two teams going at it.

“Brora are clearly a very good team with a lot of good players, so it will be a difficult game.

“Our win last Saturday was sorely needed after a bad result the week before (a 3-1 defeat at Wick Academy), so it was nice to bounce back.”

Anderson misses out for Dee

Banks o’ Dee will be without defender Jevan Anderson for the visit of Forres Mechanics to Spain Park (2pm kick-off).

The 24-year-old picked up a knock in his side’s 2-1 defeat at Buckie Thistle on Wednesday.

The Can-Cans are still without Lee Herbert, Lee Fraser and Andrew Skinner but will travel to Aberdeen in confident mood following their 1-1 draw with leaders Brechin City.

Brechin will be looking to bounce back when they travel to Clachnacuddin having now dropped points in three of their previous five fixtures.

The Lilywhites will be missing Robert Urquhart, James Anderson, Dylan Mackenzie, Martin Mackinnon, Kieran Chalmers and Zach MacPhee.

Bottom of the table Strathspey Thistle may have some trialists in their squad to face Deveronvale in Banff as they are missing at least five players due to injuries and work commitments. The Jags’ only league win of the season to date was a 5-2 success against the Vale in November.

Fin Allen and Angus Grant face late fitness tests ahead of Huntly’s home match against Wick Academy. Kyle Dalling, Ruari Fraser, Cameron Heslop and Joe Gauld are all out.

Owen Rendall returns for Wick after missing their 6-1 victory against Strathspey on Wednesday but Sean Campbell, Matthew Robertson, Alan Hughes, Owen Harrold, Matthew Aitkenhead, James Mackay and Richard Macadie are unavailable.

Keith will look to stretch their unbeaten run to seven matches when they welcome Lossiemouth to Kynoch Park. Joey Wilson, Murray Addison and Josh Buchan miss out for the Maroons.

On-loan Elgin City striker Ben Barron is back for Nairn County’s meeting with Fraserburgh at Station Park but Ross Tokely and Wayne Mackintosh will miss out again.

The Broch will be without Ryan Cowie, Josh Bolton and Zane Laird.

Rothes manager Richard Hastings faces a selection headache for his side’s visit of Turriff United with nine players on the sidelines. Greg Morrison, Ally Mackenzie, Michael Finnis, Fraser Robertson, Ben Williamson, Duncan Proudfoot, Ben Johnstone, Alan Pollock and Kyle Whyte all miss out.

Turriff United’s only absentee is Callan Gray.

Watch: Highland League Weekly EXTRA – Highlights of clash between title-chasers Buckie Thistle and Banks o’ Dee