Spartans face Central Taxis Premier Division title holders Stirling University at home tomorrow and while at this stage of the season the game cannot quite be described as a championship decider it could go some way to determining which team is going to finish top of the pile next May.
Whitehill Welfare also in contention, but Spartans are unbeaten after ten games and have collected 24 points. Stirling University have played three fewer games and trail the Ainslie Park outfit by eight points.
Last Saturday, Spartans had to draw on all of their reserves to come from two goals behind to eventually beat Tynecastle 3-2, with three goals in the closing 12 minutes including a stoppage-time winner from Keith McLeod.
“I think that it was an exciting last 15 minutes for certainly any neutral, but for a Spartans fan I am sure that they would have had their hearts in their mouths for the majority of the game,” said the Spartans manager, Douglas Samuel. “In the first half we had two or three good opportunities to take the lead but the Tynecastle goalkeeper made some excellent saves. I thought that in the second half Tynecastle were excellent and fully deserved to go ahead and showed that they have a talented group of players.
“However, our players must also take credit for finding a way to win on a day when we were poor in terms of our expected performance levels. It’s always special when you score late to win a game of football and this group of players has now won a few matches this season towards the end, so it says something about their character and their will to win. It is no coincidence that they keep going and there is a real winning mentality in this squad.
“Overall, everybody in the group has contributed to our success so far and at present it is about trying to win as many points as possible to see where that takes us because we are under no illusions – winning this title is not going to be easy. It’s going to be extremely difficult and tomorrow’s game will go a long way to letting us know how we compare and how we stack up against Stirling University this season.
“I think that in simple terms tomorrow will be the toughest game of the season so far.
“We are playing against the reigning champions, the side with the best infrastructure, the biggest squad, the most resources and a full-time head coach. I don’t think that it gets any tougher in East of Scotland League football than Stirling University.
“Our home form has been good, apart from the Scottish Cup tie against Wick Academy, and we have had some excellent performances where we have scored goals and kept clean sheets. It’s very much been a collective effort and there is a real strong sense of togetherness and team ethic in this squad.
“Tomorrow we are going to need another collective performance with someone at some point in the game doing something a little bit special to get us over the line and hopefully secure what would be a huge three points.
“If our players can execute the game plan, then we can come away with a win.”
Samuel’s only injury concern is Andy Martin, with John Grant and Donal Henretty both in contention to make the starting line-up.
Meanwhile, Eddie May, right, the former Hibs player who is head coach at Stirling University, said: “We are playing Spartans who, for a number of years, have been the best team in the East of Scotland League and it is very important that we go into the game prepared to play at the very highest level we are capable of. It is up to us to go and compete against a club who we respect for what they have achieved.
“We have not played for four weeks, although previous to that we had played two games per week for seven weeks. We may have had a break. but we’ll be going out tomorrow to try our very best. If we were to get a positive result then Stirling University would be ahead of where we were at this stage last season when we went on to win the title. We definitely have the players who can influence a game, although it’s all about what happens on the day.
“I’m fully aware of Spartans’ strengths, but we are going to Ainslie Park with a real belief that we can win although it will be a very hard game.
“A lot of our players are leaving after the game to go to various parts of the country and even abroad for Christmas, so everybody wants to finish the year on a positive note.”
May has a fully fit squad, with Kevin Walker expected to be in goals and with leading goalscorer Chris Geddes up front.
The action kicks off at Ainslie Park at 2.30pm. Admission prices are £5 for adults and £2 for concessions.