BUCKIE Thistle’s Highland League title defence took a heavy hit when they were crushed 7-1 by Cove Rangers on Wednesday.
Graeme Stewart’s injury-hit Jags were swept aside by the unbeaten Aberdonians, who are now strong favourites to win the league this season.
Already missing a string of regulars, Buckie were forced to play back-up keeper Ross Salmon while he was still nursing an ankle injury.
“The injuries haven’t helped us but we still should defend better than that,” said Stewart.
“Cove were really good, as good as I’ve ever seen them play.”
Stewart ready to raid transfer market after heavy defeat – full story in Friday’s Northern Scot
In the game at Inverurie’s Harlaw Park, Salmon was beaten by a first half Mitch Megginson hat-trick to give Cove a 3-0 half time cushion.
Jags defender Craig Dorrat had already limped off by that stage while star striker John McLeod was sick during the half time interval and had to be substituted.
It went from bad to worse for the visitors as Harry Milne and Jamie Masson scored to make it 5-0.
Chris Angus pulled one back but a double by Cove sub Paul McManus completed the rout.
Cove returned to the top of the league with their win, two points clear of Fraserburgh.
They are now nine points in front of Buckie and have played a game less.
Rothes gave high flying Formartine United a stern test at MacKessack Park before going down 4-3.
The Speysiders were twice in front, firstly when Kris Duncan opened the scoring and then when Scott Davidson’s superb 25 yarder made it 2-1, just after Scott Barbour’s equaliser.
However Barbour levelled again before the break, and when Garry Wood and a Stephen Rennie own goal added to the visiting tally there seemed no way back for Rothes.
Davidson did get his second on 70 minutes from the penalty spot and also missed a late chance when one-on-one with the Formartine keeper.
Deveronvale beat Strathspey Thistle 4-0, helped by a hat-trick from ex-Buckie striker Robert Scott.