It was a sad state of affairs for Gary Jardine and his Edinburgh City side last weekend.
A 3-0 defeat to Preston Athletic put paid to the club’s aspirations of winning the South Challenge Cup, a performance the manager himself labelled as “the worst he has seen” since being appointed boss in January 2010. To add to City’s woes, club captain Dougie Gair was sent off late on for dissent
Tomorrow, they return to league business with the visit of Gretna 2008 to Meadowbank, where a much-improved display is expected from the men in black and white.
“We were really disappointing in the first half against Preston and that was probably the poorest we’ve been since I’ve been in charge,” Jardine said. “The players have set standards and they were disappointed themselves. Other than the natural ability they have, they have a great work ethic and very rarely do they let us down in that department. But they did particularly in the first half last Saturday.
“We’ve had a chat about it and, as I say, that’s the first time it’s really happened. I don’t want to take anything away from Preston because they played really well, but we looked a bit rusty and we need to be sharper all over the park.”
With the game nearing its conclusion and City 2-0 down, an out-of-character Gair showed petulance after the home side were awarded a free-kick and the midfielder was shown a straight red for his actions. He will be suspended for tomorrow’s match but it was a decision Jardine had no complaints over.
“The referee was quite within the rules to send Dougie off, but we’ll let it go. He’s been at the club for over ten years and has been fantastic. I think he was just venting his frustrations at how the game had panned out.
“I expected a better performance. The recharging of the batteries we’d hoped to get from having a free week a fortnight ago didn’t really work out last weekend. We’ve been on a bit of form and I think it stopped us in our tracks and we could have done with another game.”
City have already faced the Borders side this season, a 2-1 defeat at Raydale Park back in August – an outcome Jardine felt was unjust on reflection of his players’ endeavours.
With tomorrow’s visitors currently occupying fifth spot in the league table and eight points adrift of leaders Spartans, albeit having played a game fewer than their rivals, Jardine appreciates his side’s opponents will be coming to the Capital with every intention of claiming all three points.
“I think they’ve got aspirations to win the league,” he said, “but just like everybody apart from Spartans, they’ve also dropped points. We played down there earlier in the season and it was really close. We were 1-0 up at half-time and then a refereeing decision went against us and we ended up losing the match 2-1, but there was nothing in the game.
“From my perspective, the next two weeks are massive games (Gretna at home tomorrow followed by Preston Athletic, also at home) and they could really determine where we end up at the end of the season, be it the top half or the bottom end.”
There is, however, little respite for the Lowland League clubs this Christmas with games over the festive period and continuing early into the new year, the League Cup taking centre stage until the end of January. It will be unfamiliar territory for many of the players plying their trade in this season’s inaugural campaign, but Jardine says it’s all part and parcel of the long-term ambitions of the new league set-up.
He added: “Now the games have been thrown at us, we’ve got a chance to see what it’s like. We’ve got one or two who stay down south and one from abroad, so I can’t stop they guys going home – they work all year round so they’re entitled to go and enjoy the festivities.
“The other players want to play football, so they can enjoy their Christmas and Boxing Day, but they don’t want to be then sitting around and twiddling their thumbs.”
Meanwhile, Spartans’ league fixture away to the University of Stirling has been postponed due to their opponents’ involvement in cup duty this weekend with a South Challenge Cup tie with East of Scotland League side Tynecastle.