Preston Athletic ‘will find it tougher to land targets after drop’

Paul Riley is looking forward to next season. Pic: TSPL
Paul Riley is looking forward to next season. Pic: TSPL
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Preston Athletic joint-manager Paul Riley believes it will be harder to sell the club to potential signing targets having had their relegation to the East of Scotland League confirmed earlier this week.

The former Hibs defender, who was appointed alongside Jack Lynch last month following the club’s decision to part ways with predecessor Craig Nisbet, appreciates the duo face a tough ask in their attempt to win promotion to the Lowland League at the first time of asking, but insists they will be doing all they can to recruit the “right calibre” of player to aid their challenge.

However, despite the Panners having finished the campaign seven points adrift of Selkirk at the foot of the division, Riley revealed the club intend to keep the nucleus of this season’s squad together.

Ahead of tomorrow’s Lowland League Cup quarter-final clash at Civil Service Strollers, Riley said: “We would like to keep the bulk of the squad 
together because they’ve worked really hard over the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve had three competitive games and we’ve won two of them, so I think they are playing their part and have made a strong case for staying on next season. Wholesale changes aren’t the answer here and I think they’ve got something to offer.

“We’ve got an extensive list of players we’d like to bring here and we’ll work on getting some of those in.

“The thing about being relegated, though, is it’s harder to get the calibre of player we want to play in the East of Scotland League. From my point of view it’s easier to sell the club as a Lowland League outfit to any potential new signings so that’s going to make our job that wee bit more difficult.

“But I will go for the same players regardless of the division we’re playing in because I believe they are the best players for Preston.”

Riley admitted he didn’t hold out much hope that the club would be playing Lowland League football next season upon accepting the job.

“We discussed all that at the interview and we knew that relegation was going to be the most likely scenario,” he explained. “Everything we had prepared for has happened so there’s no surprises there.

“I don’t see that being relegated will be any different to whether we had stayed in the Lowland League because our remit is to rebuild the club. The club needs rebuilt. I believe Jack and I will be giving the time but it’s about winning the league and promotion now.”

A morale-boosting 4-2 win at Hawick Royal Albert has tomorrow afternoon’s last-eight clash at Christie Gillies Park finely poised where Riley believes his side have every chance of progressing should his players show the same desire.

“We’ve told the guys now that everything from now on is a bonus,” he said. “Go and enjoy it and we believe within the dressing room that, on our day, we will give Civil Service a real game. We don’t look at league positions at this stage we just look at what we’ve done during the week and how we’ve prepared.

“It’s baby steps and they will still be favourites to go through and I maybe need to remind myself of that at times.”

Civil manager Alex Cunningham, however, is hoping to seal a semi-final showdown with either BSC Glasgow or Capital rivals Edinburgh University next weekend.

“They’ve done so well this season and we want to keep progressing and make the semi-finals,” he said. “Against Preston at home, we will fancy our chances for sure, but so will they.”

Edinburgh University were beaten 3-1 by BSC at the beginning of last month, but will travel to Indodrill Stadium to take on the Glasgow club in fine fettle following their 2-1 win at Gala Fairydean Rovers six days ago.

Meanwhile, Spartans host East Stirlingshire at Ainslie Park in their quarter-final tie.