Striker Blair Atkinson has had his fair share of knock-backs in recent years but that hasn’t stopped him from making an impact at title-chasing Spartans.
The player, who has been involved with the Capital club for 17 years, was farmed out on loan to divisional rivals Vale of Leithen last year where his 19 goals convinced Spartans manager Dougie Samuel that the 21-year-old could more than cut it at this level.
Now back at his parent club, Atkinson has picked up where he left off from his time with Vale having scored eight goals already for the Ainslie Park men this season. His most high-profile strike came six weeks ago in the 2-1 defeat by Northern Ireland champions Linfield in the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup.
However, there was a time not so long ago that Atkinson thought his slender frame may have hindered is chances of becoming a footballer.
“I was told I was too lean by Hearts when I trained with them at 17 and then by Dundee United two seasons ago with their under-20 squad for the same reason,” Atkinson explained ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Whitehill Welfare.
“Both of these clubs made it clear they weren’t interested because of my build which was really frustrating. I suppose it’s the mentality of Scottish football, though, as strikers are meant to be big and strong.
“But you just have to look at Jason Cummings and the knockbacks he had. He ended up going back to boys’ club football and look where he is now. Sometimes you just have to take these setbacks and learn from them. I’ve always tried to put on weight but I’m just naturally lean. I do need to fill out a wee bit more to take my game to the next level but my game is about scoring goals and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Atkinson’s patience, though, has been rewarded with the player having now started three of the club’s past four matches under Samuel.
“I am getting a really good run at things now and scoring goals this year both from the start and off the bench has been a real bonus,” he said.
“It was my first year at Lowland League last season having moved up from the 20s so I had the option of going out on loan.
“I also could have stayed but Dougie told me I wouldn’t get that much game time. He gave me a target of 10 to 15 goals last year and I exceeded that so he knows I can score when given the chance.
“I really enjoyed it down at Vale as I was playing every week and it helped with my development.
“I knew I wouldn’t start straight away when I came back to Spartans but I’d been coming on and scoring so I gave the manager a decision to make and he’s put his trust in me with some starts. I just need to keep my head down and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Meanwhile, Whitehill boss Gary Small is hoping that despite their narrow midweek defeat by Cumbernauld Colts, his players can rise to the occasion against the team, he believes, who will go on to be crowned league champions this season.
“I am under no illusions, Spartans have done really well so far this season and if I am honest, I think they’ll win the league,” Small said. “That’s my gut feeling on it. Dougie has done a really good job there year in, year out so I think this could be their time.
“But, aside from that, I think it shows how far we’ve come in recent weeks that we’ve gone away to somewhere like Cumbernauld on Wednesday and have left disappointed not to have taken anything.
“I think we are a better team than what our league position (11th) suggests so I just hope we show that tomorrow in what is a huge game for everyone associated with the club. It will be really tough, though.”
Elsewhere, Edinburgh University will look to build on their terrific win at East Stirlingshire on Tuesday night when they welcome their Stirling counterparts to Peffermill.
And Civil Service Strollers also have home advantage this weekend as they entertain current league leaders BSC Glasgow at Christie Gillies Park.