Buckie Thistle manager Graeme Stewart says games like tomorrow’s against Formartine United will decide his team’s season.
The Jags – Highland League champions in 2016-17 – have been held back by injuries in the last two campaigns.
However, this term they’ve already taken the scalp of a top-of-the-table rival, beating Inverurie Locos 3-1 at Harlaw Park on the opening day, before losing by the same scoreline to frontrunners Fraserburgh.
Stewart thinks tomorrow offers another chance for the Victoria Park hosts to show their mettle.
He said: “Definitely (it’s these games where you show how good you are). I think last year we drew with Inverurie and beat Formartine once.
“That was the only results we got off the top five or six clubs.
“The games against them determine how you finish. We have to improve against Formartine, Brora, Locos and so on.”
The two north-east sides are among a chasing pack of five clubs on 12 points, behind 15-point Fraserburgh.
Both have four wins and one loss so far, and Stewart is expecting it to be a tough, tight and low-scoring affair.
He said: “It’s a tough one. I hope it’s not a close game, but I think it will be.
“We know how strong they are – they beat us last season – and they have very good players.
“We know it’s going to be difficult. But we’re obviously confident now because of our four wins.
“It’ll be tight, there won’t be many goals and hopefully we come away with a result.”
Given their solid start to the season, could Buckie – who also welcome the Broch again, for an Evening Express Aberdeenshire Cup semi-final on Wednesday – be in the mix for another Highland crown?
Stewart said: “You start every season wanting it.
“The favourites are Fraserburgh and Brora, but we want to be in the mix.
“Our team’s good enough, but we’re still waiting on a few guys to come back from injury and we’re not 100% up to speed because other boys have come back from long-term injuries.
“When everyone’s fit and playing, we’ll be a match for everyone.
“We want to win it, but we’ve got to be realistic and say there are teams who are the favourites.”
While Buckie are no longer decimated by injury, they will not be at full strength tomorrow.
Jay Cheyne will be missing for personal reasons, while John McLeod and Cieran McLean remain on the long-term casualty list.