To win the Highland League, a team needs to have not only very high levels of fitness but also a fully developed winning mentality. This match revealed that United may have achieved the former, but seem to be deficient in the latter. A winning mentality, such as Cove appear to possess in abundance, is something which needs to endure the entire length of the season and influence every game the team plays. Without that they may still be competitive without having the iron will to succeed that makes Champions. It is an attitude that breeds the determination to treat every game as if it were a league decider or a cup final.
In their previous 3 games (against Brora, Cove and in the Shield Final against Banks O'Dee), United played with a never say die attitude and fought tooth and nail for every ball. Although these games yielded two goalless draws out of the three played, United demonstrated levels of commitment, concentration and resilience to show that they can match those at the very top of the SHFL tree. What they demonstrated at Buckie was an inability to sustain that approach in games where the level of challenge is (wrongly) perceived to be less. There was, in short, precious little sign of a winning mentality and it cost them three points as well leaving them struggling to hang onto the coat tails of Fraserburgh for third spot in the league with 7 games to go.
This was a game played in a bitter wind that swept the length of the pitch; behind Buckie in the first half and United in the second. It was one of these days where the term wind advantage is of quetionable validity as controlling the ball and judging accurate forward passes with that strength of wind at your back is just as challenging as battling into the teeth of it.
The game started messily as both sides worked out how best to adapt to the conditions. United were slower than they should have been to clock the fact that long high balls were so much at the mercy of the wind that they were worthless and that short snappy passing would be the order of the day. Somehow they lacked the pace and enthusiasm for that and looked one-paced and leaden. Thistle were the sharper looking team and began to gain more possession than their visitors. The threat of Buckie was revealed when Fraser picked up a loose ball to the left of the centre circle and threaded it through to MacAskill who got it through to fringes of the box on the other side and let fly with a firm shot that was blocked by McKeown. However both sides struggled to penetrate the final third of their opponents and the midfield became a messily crowded area where winning second balls was the order of the day. Buckie were a bit better at that than United. In the 14th minute MacAskill on the end a ball played through the inside right channel after Murray had emerged with it after a midfield joust. Bearing down on the United box and trying to reach Skinner, he gave McKeown a sniff and the big defender, under pressure, managed to get his knee to the ball for a pass back that had Main at full stretch to stop going out for a corner. There was however precious little goal mouth action. The Buckie back four of McKenna, Wood, Adams and Morrison were giving nothing away and Gary Wood and Andrew Greig made little headway. The absence of MacPhee (hamstring) meant chances of manoeuvring the ball through the defence were limited.
Adams was organising his back four so well that it was the 26th minute before United really showed any threat to him. That was when he was all but beaten to the ball by Rodger about twenty five yards out and a bit left of centre. The midfielder got a boot to it as the defender tried to block it but the ball walloped from both sides spun up in the air before being smuggled away by McKenna. A minute later Rodger burst through the centre but in trying to play in Greig ahead left over-struck the ball well beyond the speedy winger.
The game was turning gradually Buckie's way – they were just a bit sharper across the board and that eventually paid dividends in possession and territory. A sustained squeeze on United's penalty area around the thirty fifth minute yielded a pair of corners on the right but the pressure was sustained and with the defenders who had been up for the corner lingering on in the hope of scraps, Buckie got the opener their pressure deserved. It wasn't the bonniest but in the wake of a wee stramash near Main's left post McKenna got the ball across to McKENZIE at the other stick and he simply toe-poked it over the line in the 38th minute. United tried to raise the pace in response but found a buoyant Buckie challenging them at every turn. The game then resumed its dour midfield struggle.
The second half opened with a bang with a goal of embarrassing simplicity by ROSS. Picking up a loose ball near the halfway line he made off in a diagonal right to left run he had only McKeown and Jevan Anderson between him and Main. Fatal miscommunication between the centre backs ended with neither going to challenge him and finding more space he would in a black hole, he continued through the chasm between them and thumped the ball home from fifteen yards out. That was Formartine's fat fairly in the fire and they never really recovered. Their work-rate definitely improved but Buckie had the bit between their teeth and coped well with what little penetration United could muster. They sat things out determined to keep possession and control proceedings from the centre for the next ten or fifteen minutes, which they did quite capably before deciding to bring on Munro in the 60th minute and raise the threat to his former team. He was in action immediately combining with Ross and Skinner to set up the former with a good chance in front of Main's right upright before McKeown's intervention saved United from going three down.
In the 65th minute, United brought on Mackintosh for Jevan Anderson to added bite to the midfield area but they were still chasing a game that Buckie were, by and large controlling. Ten minutes later it was time for them to gamble by bringing on Jordan Leyden (signed in midweek in a straight swap with Locos for Ryan Stott) for his debut along with Gethins. They replaced Norris and Lawrence and the formation became a 3-4-3. United got something from it and the game opened out a little into an end to end pattern with United pushing desperately over the final fifteen. But that carries risks of its own and with a relatively under-populated back end they were caught short at the back in the 82nd minute as Ross doubled his tally after a relatively unchallenged run through the centre onto a through ball by Wood and splitting the defence before picking his spot from twelve yards out.
Formartine plugged away more in hope than expectation and clawed one back on the fringe of stoppage time when Leyden on the left of the box, fed by Stuart Anderson, twisting and turning to get the ball over towards Wood, found his cross impeded by Adam's hand for a clear penalty. GREIG slotted it home with an immaculate low shot into the left corner of the net. Keeper Herbert got a touch to it but the shot had too much power and continued into the net.
This was not the best platform on which to prepare for the next game – a cup semi final at Brora but the faithful will take consolation in the fact that United are very seldom if ever as poor as they were in this one.
Buckie Thistle: Herbert, McKenna (Cheyne 65), Wood, Wood, K.Adams, Morrison, Fraser, MacAskill, Ross (Milne 86), Skinner, Murray, Mackenzie (Munro 60). Subs: Cheyne, Urquhart, Munro, Milne, S.Adams.
Formartine United: Main, Crawford, Smith, S.Anderson, McKeown, J.Anderson (Mackintosh 65), Lawrence (Gethins 75), Rodger, Wood, Norris (Leyden 75), Greig. Subs: MacPherson, Lawson, Burnett, Mackintosh, Leyden, Gethins, MacDonald