Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for Spartans in the Lowland League this season. Thirteen points adrift of leaders East Kilbride in third place, the Ainslie Park outfit’s title aspirations and a crack at promotion to SPFL League Two are all but over for another year.
But, although Andrew Mair believes the runners-up spot is the best the club can hope for this term, a position currently occupied by East Stirlingshire who are six points better off, the midfielder insists he has relished every second of being part of Dougie Samuel’s first-team plans.
Having captained Spartans Under-20s last year to a second-place finish behind league champions Preston Athletic, Mair was afforded the chance to begin the new season battling it out with the likes of first-team regulars Alan Brown and Jack Beesley for a starting jersey – an opportunity he has grasped with both hands.
The 21-year-old has been a regular under Samuel so far, making his debut in the league curtain raiser against University of Stirling in July. He even provided the assists for team-mates Scott Maxwell and Jamie Dishington as Spartans won 3-0 at the Falkirk Stadium.
Ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Vale of Leithen, Mair says he will continue to give everything he’s got between now and the end of the campaign.
“I’ve had a really good run in the side lately so it’s gone well this season and I’m enjoying it,” he explained. “It’s been a work in progress but I feel I’m finally getting there and stepping up to the demands of the Lowland League and the physicality of it. I have been playing both left back and left midfield but as long as I’m playing I don’t really mind. I’ve chipped in with a couple of assists too but still no closer to finding the back of the net myself. My finishing is definitely something I need to work on!
“It’s gone how I thought it would to be honest. I expected to be in and out of the team at the beginning but lately I’ve been given a good run. It was a bit frustrating having played every week for the 20s to then find myself on the bench but I had to look at the bigger picture.
“I played really well for the 20s last season, I was captain for half the season, so Dougie felt the time was right to bring me in rather than send me out on loan so I was glad about that.
“Looking back to the first game with Stirling, with Eddie Malone being out injured I was kind of hoping to be given the nod as I had featured in a couple of pre-season friendlies. I ended up with a couple of assists too so that was a great start. Things have just really gone from there.”
With Spartans set to meet East of Scotland side Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale in the Football Nation Qualifying Cup final at Oriam in just over a fortnight’s time, Mair insists there is still plenty to play for.
“I think the league has gone now but we have to try and grab second place,” he said. “We can’t look too far ahead though as we’ve got the cup final in a couple of weeks to focus on. We’ve also got the East of Scotland Cup semi-final against Edinburgh City too.
“These are the games we are looking forward to but we still need to win our league matches too, that will give us every chance of finishing second. There’s still a lot to play for.”
Elsewhere, bottom-of-the-table Preston Athletic are running on borrowed time in their fight against relegation. The Panners travel to the Falkirk Stadium to play hosts University of Stirling six points adrift of nearest rivals Selkirk and Hawick Royal Albert. Manager Craig Nisbet will be hoping Edinburgh University can do his side a favour when the students entertain Hawick at East Peffermill. Civil Service Strollers are in action down in the Borders at Gala Fairydean Rovers and Whitehill Welfare welcome Gretna 2008 to Ferguson Park.