The first piece of silverware in the East of Scotland season is up for grabs tomorrow as the top two sides in the Premier and First Division, Leith Athletic and Peebles Rovers, go head-to-head at Innerleithen in the Alex Jack Cup Final.
Leith are aiming to win the trophy for the third year running following victories over Craigroyston and Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale in the last two finals.
Athletic manager Derek Riddel is hoping his side can create a little piece of history.
“No side has ever won the trophy in three consecutive seasons so, if we can do it, then that would be great for everyone connected with the club,” he said. “We’ve made a fantastic start to the season, going 12 games unbeaten and confidence is high throughout the squad.”
Riddel believes his side will show Peebles the respect they deserve on Sunday, urging his players to guard against complacency.
“We are fortunate in the sense that we’ve kept a good bulk of the squad together from the last few seasons, so they know what is expected on occasions like this. But when you look at Peebles, they also have a few players who have played in the East of Scotland for a few seasons so we’ll have to be aware of that. We can’t afford to lose our focus and take Peebles lightly because they’ve made a great start in the First Division.
“We know what it’s like to be underdogs in big games as well because we were labelled that against Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale in last season’s final and still came out with the trophy, so that shows you that anything can happen on the day.”
Riddel made six changes to his team in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat by Coldstream in the SFA South East Challenge Cup – a defeat which ended Leith’s unbeaten start to the season – but he believes that decision was fully justified to give every member of his squad a chance to prove themselves for tomorrow’s final.
He said: “We are taking a squad of 18 players down tomorrow. There will be a couple of players in the squad who have featured for our under 20s so far this season, but it’s been a good week training wise. We don’t want to push them too hard because you have to guard against injuries in the lead-up to a final.
“Three of the changes we made at Coldstream last week were enforced on us with Jamie Lauder, Lachlan Thom and Lewis Martin missing. But, although we have kept an eye on the condition of one or two players this week, we are more or less at full strength.”
Riddel admits that he did feel a slight sense of surprise when he heard that the game was to be played at the home of Lowland League side Vale of Leithen.
“The venue has been decided and we have to get on with it, although I was a little bemused because a lot of the players from both sides live and work in Edinburgh. “I know the pitch at Victoria Park can be bad if we get a lot of rain as well. And, with Innerleithen only a few miles away from Peebles, it means they might attract a bigger support. But we are going there with a few buses as well so there will be plenty encouragement for the boys.
“It’s all about who performs well on the day, can handle the occasion better and deal with the nerves better.”
Peebles, meanwhile, are hoping to win the trophy for the first time since 1999 when they defeated Easthouses Lily at Ferguson Park.
They have made a terrific start to the Central Taxis First Division season with no defeats from their first seven league matches and have already knocked out Premier League opposition en route to the final with victories over Easthouses Lily and Tynecastle in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.
They boast former Spartans midfielder Lee Zavaroni in their squad with two former Hibs apprentices in Dale Richardson and Sean Conaghan, former Whitehill Welfare midfielder Jordan Hall and Ger Rossi, who also has experience of the Lowland League.
“This is a big occasion for the town and there is a real buzz about the place just now,” said Rovers manager John O’Hara.
“We’ve got nothing to fear against Leith. We played them pre-season and ran them really close in a 2-1 defeat. Whoever wants it the most will win it on the day. We’re both doing well in the league but a cup final is different.”
Peebles have a slight concern over Lee Maloney who has been struggling with a flu bug this week, although he is expected to declare himself fit.