Buckie look to beat Cove and open up race for Highland League title

Graeme Stewart, right.

Buckie Thistle boss Graeme Stewart is aiming to beat Cove Rangers tonight to open up the Highland League title race.

The Aberdeen outfit are second in the table with 31 points from 11 games – Fraserburgh are a point above them in first place having played two matches more.

And the Jags sit fifth on 25 points, having played a game more than Cove.

Manager Stewart wants victory tonight at Harlaw Park to not only help the title holders’ championship chance but also help the hopes of other teams.

He said: “It’s important for the other teams in the league as well – Brora, Formartine and Fraserburgh will probably have their fingers crossed that we can get something out of the game because it will make things more interesting.

“If Cove win then they surge further clear of us and it’s another game less for the rest of the teams to catch them.

“I think everyone will have their fingers crossed that we can get something from the game.”

Thistle will be without John Maitland, Shaun Wood and Craig Cowie this evening, but come into the game on the back of a 6-2 thumping of Lowland League leaders BSC Glasgow in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.

Last season they won all three meeting with Cove. Stewart hopes that can continue but acknowledges it will be tough for Buckie against a Cove team he thinks are stronger than last campaign.

He added: “We hope it is something Cove think about as well because you can get bogy teams – we’ve got a couple. Hopefully us and Fraserburgh can be their bogy teams.

“I definitely think Cove are stronger than last season. They’ve signed some good players, they’ve got quite a bit stronger and it’s probably the best Cove team we’ve seen for a few years so we know it will be very difficult.”

Cove Rangers manager John Sheran is wary of Thistle because he believes they are a better team than their league position and points total suggest.

He said: “Games against Buckie are always good affairs with a bit of needle.

“They are probably in a bit of a false position just now and we expect Buckie to be extremely strong.

“I think they have suffered a bit like we did last year with having to be in the League Cup group stage.

“It just comes very early in the season and I think it takes a bit of a toll on you when you get into your league season.

“We suffered a bit last year and I think they’ve suffered the same. But I expect them to be pushing really hard, so it will be a tough game.

“I think this year you have so many teams who are capable of taking points off each other that anything could happen.

“I think that is also why we are seeing teams with less points than we expected because the standards of teams has improved.”

Nicky Gray is absent for Cove tonight but fellow striker Jonny Smith could make his return from injury and Sheran is pleased to have the prolific attacker back in the reckoning.

The manager added: “He’s only played once this year and scored a hat-trick so it will be good to have Jonny available again.

“He was on the bench against Nairn on Saturday but we took the safe option and didn’t use him.

“Ryan Stott got more game time on Saturday so it’s nice that we’ve got some choices in the squad.

“I think when we have everybody fit we maybe have more strength in depth than last year. But it depends on the run of games and the run of injuries you pick up.”