Vale of Leithen were the early pacesetters having gone six games unbeaten throughout the first month of the Lowland League season.
Fast forward two months and the Innerleithen side have slipped to fifth position in the table and without a league win since September 28 – a 3-1 victory over bottom side Selkirk.
Tomorrow, they face a formidable challenge as league leaders Spartans make the journey down to Victoria Park for the second meeting between the clubs this season – the first encounter at Ainslie Park ending in a 1-1 draw. Vale manager Chic McAleavy, pictured below, admits the last four to six weeks have been frustrating for the club, but appreciates all three points tomorrow could put his side right back in the mix.
McAleavy said: “If we win the game then it would put us right up there again. I don’t think a draw would be a terrible result, but they are the team that are on form at the moment and we’ve got to get ourselves back on track.
“Since the Scottish Cup tie against Brora, I’m not saying we’ve not recovered from that because we played really well, but it might just be a combination of things. We were upset about what happened up there having three players sent off, but I don’t really want to go on about that, although it did take a lot out of the guys.
“We’ve had a dent in the results but we just need to get a win because winning games gives you that confidence. I would have liked to have had more points before tomorrow’s match because it’s a big task.
McAleavy is only too aware of the firepower the opposition has at their disposal, none more so than veteran striker Keith McLeod who not only netted a hat-trick last weekend in Spartans’ 4-0 victory over Preston Athletic, the 35-year-old also secured a personal milestone of scoring 251 goals for the Capital-based side.
Having witnessed McLeod’s striking instinct at first hand during his tenure in the East of Scotland League, McAleavy is anticipating a tough afternoon for his defenders.
“Anybody that doesn’t pay close attention to Keith knows what will happen,” he said. “The guy is so experienced and has scored goals for so many years and is a proven goalscorer. If he is presented with the opportunities then there is a good chance he will score.
“But Spartans are a very good team and they’ve got their guys set up well and they’re sitting top of the league.”
McAleavy is enjoying a new lease of life in this season’s Lowland League having been sacked as manager of East of Scotland outfit Civil Service Strollers in March this year. Having been approached by Vale’s representatives upon learning of his dismissal at the tail end of last season, a stage when the Borders club were hovering dangerously close to the Premier relegation zone, McAleavy was not only keen to assist in the the challenge of staving off any threat of the drop, but to see the job through and assemble a squad capable of challenging at the top end of the table.As part of a management team also consisting of Fraser Ogilvie and ex-Hibs favourite Michael Weir, McAleavy said: “It’s been hard as we’ve built a completely new team.
“It’s a step up from the East of Scotland League but we’ve got a lot of potential down here. I think if you look at the league where everybody is taking points off of one another, it’s a lot more competitive. A lot of the time it was a two-horse race in the East of Scotland where it was between Spartans and Whitehill, but this year it’s not the case.”
“We want to be up there challenging and we’ll keep saying we can win the league until it’s mathematically impossible, so that’s our aim.”