THOUGH Buckie Thistle still have something to play for this season, star striker John McLeod is already looking beyond the summer break.
The Inverness-based front man has been a frustrated spectator in Jags’ recent matches due to a hip injury which is likely to end his campaign.
McLeod was in Glasgow yesterday seeing a specialist to determine the extent of a problem which he may even have had at birth, but has certainly been bothering him for the past year.
“I’ve been playing through it since Keith away last season, which is a whole year now,” he said. “In the last two month the pain was lasting five days after games. I could hardly walk and I was asking ‘what’s going on here’ so I spoke to three different physios and all three told me to stop playing and see a specialist.”
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Early indications are that McLeod may even have been born with a pincer impingement of the hips, which has only come to light due to the amount of football he played in 2017.
“I was finding it harder this year. We were playing in games against teams who were wanting to beat us even more. In some of these games I felt I needed a bit more and it just wasn’t there.
“I felt like I was letting the boys down, it was so frustrating. Spider (manager Graeme Stewart) was sticking by me and I was still scoring goals but you felt you were playing 80, maybe 75 per cent of what you could play.”
Late last year the situation reached breaking point for the striker and he was ordered to stop playing, do physio exercises and low impact gym work such as cycling, and see a specialist to discover what exactly needed to be done.
If it is confirmed as a pincer impingement, he is likely to need keyhole surgery to scrape the bone and clean up the joint, then a four-month recovery time.
“The hardest part right now is going through to games on Saturdays. You are not seeing the boys in training but just on Saturdays and you are gutted because you are not involved.”
McLeod watched his Jags team-mates take on title favourites Cove Rangers at Victoria Park. The Aberdonians won 2-0 to finish the calendar year with an unbeaten league record.
They are destined to win the title, McLeod believes, and he is predicting that they are good enough to go through the play-offs into League 2 next term.
“They have been so good this season, even if we were having the same kind of season as we had last year, they look like they would be beating us to the title.
“We beat them three times last season before the turn of the year but since then they have shown how good a side they are. Teams are already looking to rebuild because they can’t catch them, but I think they are going to League 2.”
McLeod hopes he can battle back to fitness in time for next season, along with many of Buckie’s other long-term injury victims.
“Getting all those players back is going to be massive. We have a good enough team just now but with so many good players to come back in, once we’ve got everyone back challenging for places I think we will be up there challenging again.”
McLeod has struck 15 goals this season despite his injury, well short of the 47 he netted in Jags’ incredible title-winning season.
In that campaign he teamed up with Chris Angus and Sam Urquhart for a trio scoring more than 100 goals between them. Now Angus has joined Inverurie Locos and Urquhart have been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a cruciate ligament injury, with McLeod’s season also seemingly over.
Buckie have also been without captain Kevin Fraser for many weeks, and had centre back Lewis MacKinnon suspended for the visit of Cove.
A further setback came when goalkeeper Daniel Bell was sent off midway through the first half of Saturday’s defeat, after dashing out of his penalty area and fouling Mitch Megginson.
Recent signing Ryan Booth came on in his place but was beaten by a Jamie Masson strike before half time. Megginson struck in the second half to seal the win.
Another tough match lies ahead for Buckie when Brora Rangers pay a visit to Victoria Park on Saturday in their first game of the year.
Former Dundee United teenager Booth will deputise for the suspended Bell in goal.