THERE’S one good thing about the big freeze that’s hit the East Region – it’s probably the only reason there’s still something to play for in this season’s Super League.
Even before a ball was kicked at the start of the campaign, the title was the only thing up for grabs due to relegation being scrapped as part of next season’s restructuring of the divisions.
Approaching the halfway stage, for some teams at least, it already has the makings of a one-horse race when the weather loosens its grip and allows the action to resume again.
Put simply, the season has belonged so far to Linlithgow. Mark Bradley’s men have dropped only two points – in a 1-1 draw with Kelty – in their opening ten games.
They’re nine points clear of closest challengers Bo’ness, who have a game in hand, with third-placed Broxburn a further six points adrift.
Former Hearts player Bradley is too long in the tooth to be counting any chickens yet and the same goes for his players, the majority of whom have bags of experience, but the only thing standing between Rose and a first Super League title triumph since 2007 is an unlikely collapse in the second half of the season.
Due to his managerial inexperience, Bradley may have been seen as a bit of a gamble by the Lithgae committee when they picked him to succeed Dave Baikie.
However, helped by Marvyn Wilson, another former Hearts youngster, he’s got Rose ticking and playing a brand of football the club’s fans love to see. In truth, Bradley is working with essentially the squad he inherited from Baikie, albeit he’s made some notable additions.
It’s no secret to regular followers of the Junior game that Lithgae’s weakness in recent seasons was in defence – but not any more.
In a recent 2-1 win at Bonnyrigg, for example, Jamie McKenzie and John Ovenstone hardly put a foot wrong, while goalkeeper David Hay has been another good addition.
Baikie, of course, claimed a fair share of silverware during his time at Prestonfield and good players he brought to the club are still there, such as Derek Fleming, Andy Shirra, Adam Nelson and Colin Strickland.
The Super League title proved elusive, though, the taste of disappointment for those Rose fans being made even more bitter by the fact Bo’ness were crowned champions twice in the last three seasons.
Under Bradley, Rose have finally blossomed again on the league stage, the young manager saying he is trying to let his team play to its “strengths”.
It was certainly interesting in that win at Bonnyrigg that he started with Strickland, Tommy Coyne and Gordon Herd all playing up front – a bold move, but one that paid off.
If Bo’ness are going to have any chance of claiming the title again, Allan McGonigal’s men can’t afford to put a foot wrong for the rest of the season.
McGonigal took over the reins again at Newtown Park following Paul Ronald’s departure early in the season and they’d started to build up a head of steam before the ice and frost put everything into cold storage.
Former Raith Rovers and East Fife striker Steve Hislop hit a hat-trick in United’s last outing – a 3-0 win over St Andrews – and his firepower could still have a say in the title race.
Bo’ness certainly need to win at Linlithgow in a match that was postponed a fortnight ago due to the weather and they’ll also need help from the other teams. Having already proved a match for Lithgae on the day, Kelty will certainly feel they can come out on top when the teams meet again in Fife. Following some shrewd summer signings, notably the capture of Stephen Bathgate from Hill of Beath, Keith Burgess would have been hoping to see Kelty challenging for the title this season.
However, having already lost three times on the road, they’re now facing a horrendous backlog due to a Scottish Cup tie against Penicuik being postponed over and over. For the other teams in the top flight, it’s a pressure-free season due to the fact they’ve not got relegation to worry about – and that’s a good thing for the likes of Broxburn and Musselburgh.
Broxburn, last season’s Premier Division champions, have given a good account of themselves so far and Steve Pittman is already starting to plan for next term. So, too, is Musselburgh manager David McGlynn, who virtually had to start from scratch again after a summer clear-out and is pleased with the way his young side is developing.
For Bonnyrigg, meanwhile, there is little hope of them hanging on to the title they secured for Max Christie in his first season at the club.
They’ve only played six league games but are 21 points behind Linlithgow, having also bowed out of both the Scottish Cups in recent weeks.
Rose, though, haven’t become a bad side overnight. Far from it, in fact. Last season was always going to be a hard one for Christie to follow and, helped by his desire and determination, Rose are still likely to finish this campaign nearer the top of the table than the bottom.