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Buckie Thistle assistant manager Lewis Mackinnon says Victoria Park side will attack “ridiculous” schedule of six games in 12 days with full effect to keep Highland League title dream alive

By Craig Christie

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Lewis Mackinnon says Buckie Thistle face a “ridiculous” situation of having to play six games in 12 days to keep their Highland League title dreams alive.

Buckie assistant manager Lewis MacKinnon (left) and manager Graeme Stewart. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Buckie assistant manager Lewis MacKinnon (left) and manager Graeme Stewart. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

Already hit by a spate of postponements during an unseasonably wet few months and drainage issues at Victoria Park, Jags saw their last two league clashes against Keith and Strathspey Thistle called off.

But with leaders Brechin City losing at Fraserburgh on Saturday, Buckie find themselves nine points behind the champions with three games in hand and possibly still with their title destiny in their own hands.

Current Highland League rankings
Current Highland League rankings

The eventual league winners must play an SPFL play-off semi-final by the end of this month, highlighting the urgency to get matches played.

Mackinnon feels Scottish football bosses could have looked at ways of extending the campaign and not left north clubs with a “crazy” schedule to fulfil.

“This season has been both bizarre and challenging, ridiculous actually,” he said, “It’s crazy at our level.

“You hear the top teams in England and Scotland complaining about their schedules but for part-time players to be asked to play this amount of games is ridiculous to be honest.

“Especially when you're trying to compete for the title, I think it’s unfair. I don’t see why common sense can't prevail and they do some or some sort of extension. It’s not as if we are going to the Euros to play.”

Mackinnon accepted his own club’s drainage issues have been a factor in them falling behind on games but said others have also been affected.

“This is a challenge we’ve got to take head-on, and we know that,” he added.

“Our pitch is partially to blame. It’s been a very wet winter which means we have a part to play in it. We just have to take it front on and see where it takes us.”

Buckie’s remaining fixtures begin at Keith tonight, before playing host to Brora Rangers on Wednesday and Deveronvale on Saturday.

It’s the same pattern of fixtures next week, with a double header of games against bottom club Strathspey Thistle on Monday and Wednesday, and another meeting with Keith at Victoria Park on the Saturday.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Buckie are then scheduled to play Inverurie Locos the following Tuesday in the Aberdeenshire Shield final at Keith.

It’s common for management teams to use that old football cliche ‘one game at a time’ but Mackinnon added: “We can’t even look at it that way.

“As a management we are now having to look at the team and how we manage them, playing Monday, Wednesday, Saturday for the next two weeks, then a cup final on Tuesday.

“It’s seven games minimum, and if we are successful, which is going to be a tall order, there could be more.

“Myself, Spider (manager Graeme Stewart) and Hamish (player coach Munro) were talking about the team after training on Saturday, and we were already looking at possible teams for Wednesday and Saturday, never mind Monday.

“The players want to play every game and fair play to them. They wanted to train for longer than they should have on Saturday and they are keen and enthusiastic but we’ve got to manage them.

“I remember when I was young, I just wanted to carry on playing but it does hit you at some point when you are playing as many games as we are.”

Five of Jags’ six remain matches come against teams in the bottom seven in the league. But they are well aware of defeats to Clach, Lossiemouth and Wick Academy in recent weeks, as well as draws with Inverurie Locos and Deveronvale, all on Saturdays having defeated title rivals in their previous fixture in midweek.

Mackinnon said: “It was tough, the Saturdays after Wednesdays and the way the fixtures went.

“The Wednesday games were all against top six teams and we were successful and got the points in all of them but it took its toll. When Saturday came, I don’t think it came down to a lack of fitness but it could come down to sharpness and not so much physical sharpness but more mentality sharpness.

“That means moving the ball quicker and making the right decisions. I think it’s more brain tiredness that has taken its toll in the weekend games and that has hurt as more because we haven’t taken more chances to get more points on the board.”

The two postponed matches in the past few days have at least allowed Buckie to stage their first training sessions since before their big Scottish Cup clash with Celtic in January.

Since then, such has been the nature of their fixtures list that they have only been able to go from match to match, with attempts to reast players in between.

“We got training last midweek and again on Saturday. That was our first two sessions since we trained on a Friday night before Celtic in January.

“It was good to get that back, working on a bit of shape and phase of play, get some boxes going. But of course we would rather get the fixtures done.”

Mackinnon knows every player must find time to travel to six matches in 12 days as well as do their own working days, and take whatever measures possible to recharge energy levels.

“The boys are all working and have to travel to Keith tonight,, then work the next two days and travel again to Buckie for a tough game against Brora.

“It’s crazy, but we will take it full-on, take it seriously and there’s no reason why we can’t go and get maximum points in all of these games. That is our target and we will give it our best shot.

“Brechin still have some difficult fixtures and as we have found out ourselves, there are no easy games. The pitches are becoming difficult, they are either really soft or drying out and becoming bobbly.

“There’s a lot of different factors. But I do think we have to go out and take full points in the last six games to have any chance of winning the league, and that is our aim.

“We have had the ice baths set up after our last home game. Squish (Hamish Munro) is pretty clued up on his sports science, we have the creatine, the proteins and all the shakes and methods you need to help you recover after games.

“The boys know what they need to do and we have a good squad so we have to utilise that to the full and everyone will have a part to play in these next six games in the league.”

Jags also know that tonight’s opponents Keith may be in the bottom seven but they are also the form team in the Highland League right now.

“They are unbeaten in ten which is no mean feat, and they have Brechin on Wednesday so they will be looking to put a spanner in the works.

“They beat us in the cup earlier this season on penalties, so hopefully we are learning from the games against teams who can make it difficult for us and we can get the right result. But it won’t be any easy feat.”

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