Edinburgh UNIVERSITY complete one of the most demanding weeks in their 134-year history when they welcome Leith Athletic to Peffermill in the Central Taxis Premier Division, kick-off 2.30pm.
The students beat Vale of Leithen 3-2 last Saturday then won 3-0 against the same side on Tuesday. On Wednesday night they lost on penalties at Stirling University after a 2-2 draw in the semi-final of the Inter-Scottish Univeristies Queen’s Park Shield.
Now they face a Leith team who are unbeaten in their last seven games as they strive to avoid relegation. Douglas Samuel, the Edinburgh University head coach, is himself a ‘Leither’ but that allegiance will be cast aside for 90 minutes tomorrow. “I am extremely proud to come from Leith,” said Samuel. “My first boys club was Leith Persevere so I would like to see Leith Athletic do well – but only after tomorrow!”
After his side’s defeat to Stirling on Wednesday evening, Samuel added: “The performance was good over the 90 minutes although we were beaten on penalties. I thought in spells some of the football we played was excellent and over the piece I thought we edged it slightly. I certainly can’t have any complaints about the effort my players put in.
“Our players have worked tirelessly over the past couple of months and got themselves into a position where we were competing for trophies and also won the Scottish Universities Championship. Obviously we were hoping to do the double but sadly it was not to be. We have gone out of two competitions on penalty kicks so it has been quite difficult to take.”
However, Samuel is not reflecting too much on the students’ elimination from these cups, preferring to concentrate on the positive aspects of the current season. “It has been an excellent campaign for us,” he stressed. “In the first half of the season, although we didn’t get the points on the board, our performance levels were good but we were struggling to score goals. We always felt that when we got two or three players back it would be a trigger point for us and it would give us that extra bit of quality in our starting Xl to turn the draws into wins and the defeats into draws. In fact we have exceeded our own expectations by winning eight of our last ten league games which is a fantastic run.”
Turning his attention to tomorrow, Samuel said: “I think our game against Leith will be extremely tough. Earlier in the season I saw Leith play 45 minutes of the best football I have seen this season when they led 4-1 against Spartans.
“I have no doubt they are a good side, a side with talented players who have earned their place in the Premier Division and will not want to give that up without a fight. We have three or four players who have been really consistent performers all season including goalkeeper Mark Tait, defender Mark Gair and Danny Main who have all been superb and have given us a great platform. If James Craigen and Jack Beacher have a good day then we can provide any team in the East of Scotland League with a difficult game.
“One of our goals at the beginning of the season was to finish in the top six and if we achieve that then it will be a notable achievement of which the players can be highly proud.”
Samuel has Roy Chatterjee, Olli Vakalla, Mike Gray and Andrey Kuzmenko all unavailable. Leith manager Derek Riddel, meanwhile, whose side drew 1-1 with league leaders Spartans last weekend, reflected on that game by saying: “A draw was a good result as no-one outside of Leith Athletic expected us to pick up a point.”
The previous league encounter between Leith and the University ended in a 4-0 win for the students. “After that game we knew Edinburgh had too much quality to be involved in the bottom half of the table. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Mark Tait while Jack Beacher and James Craigen are definitely two of the best players in the Premier Division.
“However, we have shown in our last seven games that we can compete with the top teams although it has taken us a few months to adapt to the Premier Division. Douglas Samuel’s teams are always well organised and very hard to beat although I’m optimistic we can take something tomorrow.”
Riddel has Jack Combe in goalscoring form although he will be missing Gary Black, Jon Manson, Lewis Martin, Matty Banks and Jason Stevens while Steven Barrie is an injury doubt.