BUCKIE Thistle returned to the top of the Highland League for Christmas.
The Jags dug out a crucial 1-0 win over fellow title challengers and reigning champions Cove Rangers at Victoria Park on Christmas Eve.
A first half penalty from Shaun Carrol ensured the three points, however, goalkeeper Daniel Bell was the hero in the second half as he made three great saves to deny Mitch Megginson as Cove pushed for an equaliser.
Bell won the man of the match award after a terrific debut on his return to the club after signing a four and a half year contract following his move from Keith earlier in the week.
The win puts Buckie level on points with Brora Rangers but ahead on goal difference following the Sutherland side’s 4-1 defeat at Lossiemouth on Friday night.
Buckie are five points clear of Cove Rangers following the win, having played a game more.
Skipper Kevin Fraser was fouled by Stuart Walker in the 24th minute for the spot kick which Carrol lashed high into the net.
Bell made a great stop from the inrushing Megginson in the 29th minute and seven minutes before the break made another vital stop to deny Jonny Smith.
The second half was just 17 seconds old when Megginson fired in a superb 20 yard effort which Bell palmed away.
Buckie almost added a second when Fraser, Chris Angus and John McLeod combined but Fraser saw his shot well saved by Stuart McKenzie.
With 16 minutes remaining Bell pulled off an outstanding save to touch a Megginson grounder past his post and he used his feet to block another effort from the striker five minutes from the end of normal time.
Cove were reduced to ten men when Blair Yule was shown a straight red after reacting badly to an Angus tackle and kicking out at the Buckie man.
Buckie survived five minutes of added time to put themselves top of the pile again heading in to the new year.
Buckie: Bell, Munro, Carrol, Dorrat, MacKinnon, McLean, Fraser, Cowie, McLeod (Gilfillan 76), Angus, Urquhart. Not used: Wood, Taylor, Milne, Strong.
Cove: McKenzie, Redford, Walker (McDonald 76), Yule, Watson, Kelly, Scully, Campbell, Megginson, Smith (Park 63), Lawrie. Not used: Burnett, McCulloch, Duff, McCafferty