Craigroyston and Leith Athletic clash in an all-Capital encounter when they face each other in the Alex Jack Cup Final at Ainslie Park on Sunday, kick-off 3.00pm.
Managers Ross McNeil of Craigroyston and Leith’s Derek Riddel are anticipating a good contest. The two clubs have already met in a Central Taxis First Division match this season which ended in a thrilling 4-3 win for Leith, although the result could have gone either way.
Both clubs have won three times en route to the final although, in Craigroyston’s case, each victory has come against a Premier Division club, while Leith have defeated three sides from the First Division.
Craigroyston boss McNeil said: “Against Lothian in the first round they were on top but the game eventually finished 3-3 and we went through on penalties to give us our first Premier Division scalp. We then played Tynecastle in what was a scrappy game although I always felt that we were the better side and Steven Moncur scored in extra time to give us a 2-1 win.
“The semi-final then gave us a very tough draw away to Gretna 2008 where we played really well and were worthy winners. It’s not been easy getting to the final and it won’t be any easier attempting to beat Leith.
“However, the occasion is great for everyone connected with Craigroyston, both past and present. This is really the players’ first season together and there is a real buzz about the dressing-room.”
Craigroyston have not lifted the Alex Jack Cup – named in honour of a previous secretary of the East of Scotland Football Association – for 20 years and McNeil would love to rectify that situation. “We have tried to play the build-up low key with training as normal as can be in the circumstances. I’ll have the players in tomorrow to work on the shape and formation of the team. They will be as well prepared as they could possibly be.
“When Leith beat us earlier in the season I thought they were very good, especially their movement off the ball. However, we too have a strong squad and we’re going into the final confident that we can win the game. Our players know exactly what they have to do and the all-weather surface at Ainslie Park will suit us because we like to play a passing game. I’m looking forward to an entertaining game with Craigroyston emerging as winners.”
McNeil will have Bryan Wilson, a recent signing form Newtongrange Star and previously Preston Athletic, in his squad along with Mark Hendrie although Paul Lynch and Stuart Addison miss out because of injury.
Meanwhile, the Leith Athletic manager, Derek Riddel, looked back on his side’s progress to Sunday’s final when he said: “We kicked off in our first-round game at 11 in the morning because Scotland had a home game and we beat Easthouses Lily 6-1. Maybe we should have more very early kick-offs! To be fair it was actually one of our best performances of the season. Then we beat Eyemouth United 6-3 away from home after trailing 2-0. The semi-final against Ormiston saw us win 2-1 and I thought that we were comfortable for most of the game and were not under too much pressure.”
The wintry weather has caused postponements of Leith’s two last scheduled games and Riddel added: “It’s been a case of training well and we did manage a bounce game so we have prepared well. The players will have a day off on Saturday to relax and prepare mentally for the final. When we met Craigroyston earlier we started really well and then had a player sent off but we put in what I would call a ‘mature’ performance and did well to hold out for a 4-3 win.
“Craigroyston are a good side who I imagine will be quite direct on Sunday with Errol Douglas and John Dunn both good goal threats. We will certainly need to perform at the top of our abilities.”
Leith have been well served this season by Chris Beaton, Chris Barrie and Lewis Tracey although Riddel added: “I would be confident in all of the players in my squad although two of my 18 will unfortunately not be given a jersey. There will be a lot of players who have played for many years in the East of Scotland League and never reached a cup final so I want my players to go out and enjoy the occasion. I want them to come back into the dressing-room having given their all. They must have no regrets.”