ABSENTEE-stricken Nairn County make the daunting trip to Buckie Thistle looking to join an exclusive club of teams who have managed to take points off the free-scoring hosts so far this season.
Graeme Stewart's Jags are flying high in the Highland League table with the Aberdeenshire Cup already in the bag, a commendable Scottish Cup run under their belts which ended with a blockbuster game against Dunfermline Athletic a fortnight ago and top spot in the standings to boast of with their superior goal difference keeping them ahead of rivals, Brora Rangers.
Only Inverurie Locos, Keith and Fraserburgh have anything to show from league encounters with Buckie so far this season and with cup competitions out of the way until the New Year, Stewart will want to see his players go on a winning run between now and the start of the Highland League (Morganti) Cup in February to enhance their bid to take the Highland League championship trophy back to Victoria Park for the first time since 2011.
Thistle were thumping 8-3 winners at Station Park back in August with the Jags 7-0 in front prior to a late County rally. Much has changed in the development of the Nairn team since that day though but a lack of pre-season action looked to be catching up with some of Ronnie Sharp's charges during a lacklustre second half of the defeat to Fraserburgh last Saturday. However, a chance to cause a major upset just as they did at Brora a few short weeks ago may prove to be just the motivation that's needed to see Sharp's leg-weary troops dig deep for another result.
If you cannot make it through to Victoria Park to support the team, you can follow the match online through the NCFC Media live updates service on facebook.com/nairncountyfc and @NairnCounty on Twitter. Coverage starts with team lines before kick-off, updates of all of the relevant talking points as the match progresses, a report available on the final whistle and reaction from the Nairn camp later in the evening. Please note that we have experienced connection issues at Buckie in the past, so live coverage may not be up to the usual standards. A preview of the match is below:
Date: Saturday December 10th 2016
Competition: Scottish Highland Football League
Opponents: Buckie Thistle
Manager: Graeme Stewart
Venue: Victoria Park, Buckie
Previous meeting: Nairn County 3 Buckie Thistle 8 August 20th 2016
Last time out: Fort William 2 Buckie Thistle 5; Nairn County 0 Fraserburgh 2
League position: Nairn County 13th Buckie Thistle 1st
Form guides: Buckie Thistle D(W)WLWLW Nairn County WWLDDL
Team news: Club captain Wayne Mackintosh makes a welcome return to the Nairn County squad after a two-game absence to hand Ronnie Sharp a boost but his midfield cohort Gregg Main is away for the weekend and misses this trip along the coast. Goalkeeper Dylan Maclean is back in the squad but work commitments rule out Jamie Mackay, who came through an hour for the under-20s in midweek, with Chris Moir still on holiday. Paul Macleod is still sidelined because of a foot injury, which is expected to rule him out over the festive period while Willie Barron may have work commitments. With a number of absentees and Nairn St Ninian being inactive, the club has been granted permission by the Saints to include the three players currently on loan at the Showfield but of the trio, Reece Barton picked up a knock in the midweek under-20s friendly against St Duthus. Fellow under-20s player Andy Reid - who has featured on the bench for the first team in recent weeks - is also struggling because of a knee injury, which forced him off at half time on Wednesday night.
One to watch: Ceiran McLean. The understated midfield makes the Jags tick in the middle of the park. He may not draw the accolades that his team mates further up the park receive but without the excellent performances of the former Elgin City player, the likes of John McLeod, Chris Angus and Sam Urquhart would probably not be reaching the heights they are in the scoring charts. Currently in his first season at Victoria Park, McLean was outstanding for Buckie in their win at Station Park back in August and his no-nonsense approach, simple use of the ball and set piece delivery is one of the biggest threats in manager Graeme Stewart's armoury. It is teed up for an interesting battle between the stocky midfield player and Wayne Mackintosh in the engine room battle.
Match officials: Referee Dan McFarlane, Assistants Ewan Jarvie and Gerry Cheyne
Weather forecast: Sunny intervals 8 degrees 11 mph wind
Admission prices: Adults £8 Concessions £5 (two children under the age of 14 are admitted for free if they are accompanied by a paying adult).