East Kilbride & Buckie Thistle primed for SPFL play-off semi-final

East Kilbride's Sean Winter
Sean Winter is one of East Kilbride's key players
SPFL Pyramid play-off semi-final first leg: Buckie Thistle v East Kilbride
Venue: Victoria Park, Buckie Date: Saturday 29 April Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Coverage: Updates on BBC Radio Scotland and match report on BBC Sport online

East Kilbride hope they have not peaked too soon as they and Buckie Thistle vie for the chance to win promotion to the Scottish Professional Football League.

East Kilbride secured the Lowland League title on 1 April and eventually finished seven points clear of East Stirlingshire.

But Buckie had to wait until the final day of the Highland League season to make the play-off semi-final.

"We had a great start and led all the way," said EK secretary Dave McKenna.

"But it was great to to get over the line.

"This will be a tough game, especially as Buckie had to wait until the final game to win the title and will be firing on all cylinders."

It was Buckie's 11th title but the first time it will bring with it the chance to win promotion to the senior leagues via a pyramid play-off in its third year.

Graeme Stewart's Jags beat bottom side Strathspey Thistle 9-0 on the final day of the season to finish above Cove Rangers on goal difference and a point clear of Brora Rangers.

'Nobody expected us to get into the top six'

East Kilbride were founded in 2010 and this is the first time they have won the Lowland League - itself only in its fourth season.

Manager Martin Lauchlan steered Kilby to title glory and is someone who knows the senior leagues well, having played for Partick Thistle, St Johnstone, Dumbarton, Stenhousemuir and Elgin City.

He took over at EK last summer and has supplemented his squad with some experience from the senior leagues, including former Inverness Caledonian Thistle defender David Proctor, Paul Woods, who recently left Queen's Park, and fellow midfielder Adam Strachan, who started his career with Partick Thistle.

Lauchlan's side visit Buckie on Saturday, with the Highlanders travelling to K-Park for the second leg on 6 May.

He told BBC Scotland: "The club have been great and put us up overnight.

Buckie boss Graeme Stewart
Buckie boss Graeme Stewart is hoping his side have enough quality to see off East Kilbride

"It wasn't possible to see them myself because we didn't know who was going to win the league, but I have had them watched for three or four weeks."

Stewart, the 34-year-old former Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Peterhead and Montrose midfielder, is pleased with progress during his second season in charge of Buckie.

"Nobody expected us to get in the top six, nobody thought we would get in the top four and nobody expected us to win the title, so we have risen to the challenge each time and hopefully we can do so again," he said.

Two seasons ago, Brora Rangers chairman John Young suggested that beating Montrose in their play-off final could have crippled the club financially and Stewart recognises that Buckie view the Highland League as a good set-up to be involved in.

"Promotion might not be ideal for the club, but my staff and my players want to play at as high a level as possible," he said.

Whoever wins through on aggregate will then face another two-legged affair against the side finishing bottom of League Two.

That was East Stirlingshire's fate last season as they fell out of the senior leagues after defeat by last season's Lowland League champions, Edinburgh City.

City secured a second season in the SPFL with last week's 2-0 win over Annan Athletic.

That left Clyde and Berwick Rangers three points ahead of Cowdenbeath with two games remaining as they battle it out to avoid a play-off against Buckie or East Kilbride.

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