40-something has made promotion a real possibility

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CRAIG MEIKLE is hoping evergreen Ally Reid continues to be Penicuik’s lucky charm when they bid to step up their Premier Division promotion challenge at home to second-top Oakley tomorrow (2.30pm kick-off).

The 40-something signed for the Midlothian club last summer after ending his lengthy spell at Bonnyrigg, where he was a Super League title winner three seasons ago.

Now he has his sights set on helping Penicuik climb into the top flight after a good run of form hoisted them to fourth in the table, just three points behind new leaders Sauchie.

“We haven’t lost a single game when Ally has been playing in central defence and that speaks volumes about what he brings to the team,” said joint-manager Meikle.

“People were quick to criticise us when we signed Ally, saying he was too old. But he’s been fantastic for us.

“He played at right-back when we lost at Auchinleck in the Scottish Cup but since moving into the middle we’ve gone six games unbeaten in the league.

“Ally’s a machine – he looks after his body – and he’s a great player to have at the club.”

Meikle is no spring chicken himself but the pair have taken up where they left off earlier in their careers. “We played together for four years at Bonnyrigg and now we are enjoying our partnership being restored,” he added.

“I think our combined age is about 75, which is probably the oldest partnership in Junior football, never mind the Premier Division.”

After setting the pace from the off, Oakley have started to stutter in recent weeks, losing at home to Glenrothes a fortnight ago then being held at Armadale last Saturday.

Penicuik could go above the Fifers with a win tomorrow but Meikle is playing down their hopes of securing one of the two promotion spots at the end of the season.

“Tomorrow’s game is certainly a tasty-looking one on paper and we are determined to get back to winning ways after drawing two games (against Tayport and Glenrothes) we should really have won based on chances. We’re not even talking about promotion at the moment as there’s still a long way to go and as many as six teams could still be in the mix.

“The bookies have Sauchie and Oakley as the favourites to go up, but ourselves, Glenrothes, Tayport and even Broxburn are all still in it, too.

“We are determined to stay in there as long as we possibly can and that means picking up three points against Oakley.”

As evidenced in those back-to-back draws, Penicuik’s main headache at the moment is finding someone who can convert the chances they’ve been creating.

“Keith Barr, who’s a midfielder, played up front last Saturday, while Mark Smith is another option for us there,” said Meikle.

“Unfortunately, it looks as though both Conor Thomson and Craig O’Reilly are going to miss out through injury on Saturday so that leaves us down to the bare bones.”

On the plus side, Oakley are also going to be without a key player as the experienced Murray McDowell is suspended.

“He’s a clever player for them,” noted Meikle. “In fact, he’s the one who caused us problems when we lost over there earlier in the season.

“They also have experience in Ryan Blackadder and the Dair brothers and they’ll hurt you if you let them play. But I’m hoping our superior fitness will stop that from happening and allow us to come out on top.”

Win or lose, both Meikle and fellow joint-manager Brian Ryrie firmly believe they are moving the club in the right direction.

“Last season we didn’t do well against the top teams and that’s what cost us,” said Meikle. “This time around we’ve only lost to Sauchie and Oakley in the league and even then it was only by one goal.

“I know the fans and the committee will all be talking about promotion at the moment and I suppose that’s only to be expected.

“If that happens, then brilliant, but as long as we are making progress that’s the most important thing as far as I’m concerned.

“We’ve signed a lot of youngsters over the past couple of seasons. Chris Roxburgh, for instance, is only 18 and Dean Knight and Conor Thomson are just 19.”

With Bonnyrigg, Newtongrange and Arniston all facing away games tomorrow, it means Penicuik have the Midlothian spotlight to themselves in the top two divisions.

“Hopefully that will attract a few neutrals along and make it a good crowd for what promises to be a good game,” said the Penicuik joint-manager.