Preston players urged to grab Hampden slot

Sean Fraser has suffered serious ankle damage

Sean Fraser has suffered serious ankle damage

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Preston Athletic boss David Bingham has urged his players to simplify his task of selecting a starting XI ahead of next weekend’s Scottish Cup showdown with Queen’s Park at Hampden.

The East Lothian outfit welcome league leaders Spartans to the Pennypit tomorrow hoping to atone for last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of East Kilbride, and while Bingham is adamant he is solely focussed on the visit of the Ainslie Park side, he believes this is his own squad’s last throw of the dice to earn a starting berth at the national stadium against Scottish League Two’s bottom club.

“Spartans is our last game before what is arguably the biggest game in the club’s history,” Bingham explained, “so the players will all want a one-to-eleven jersey next week. If players aren’t playing against Queen’s Park then the first person they have to look at is themselves.

“I shouldn’t have to motivate them as they should be bursting to play and the one way that whoever starts the game tomorrow can guarantee they will be in the team the following week is by putting in a really strong individual performance.

“But I’m not looking towards that as tomorrow’s match is what’s important – Hampden will take care of itself. Spartans are one of the top teams and I’ve got a lot of time for Dougie (Samuel) as he sets his teams up to play good football.

“The history of the club shows they are always challenging for honours, but on our day we know we can beat them. We dropped below our standards last week against East Kilbride. But it’s gone and now the focus is on tomorrow.”

Coupled with the defeat in South Lanarkshire – the club’s fourth of the campaign – was the injury to prolific goalscorer Sean Martin, who sustained ankle ligament damage after an awkward fall on the K-Park artificial surface during the first half. A visit to hospital confirmed the striker’s fears and Bingham admits it’s a huge blow to lose a player of this magnitude so early in the season.

He said: “It’s just one of those things and it’s really unfortunate Sean will be missing for a considerable length of time – and we’re talking months rather than weeks.

“He was a big part last of the team last year and was already on nine goals this season so it’s a horrible injury and he faces a long road to recovery. I suffered the exact same injury in my time as a player so I know exactly what it takes to get back.

“We’ve just got to support Sean in his comeback, but it’s an opportunity for other players to step up to the mark and try to fill his boots.”

When pressed about the possibility of scouring the market for a suitable replacement, Bingham added: “It’s something that has certainly crossed my mind so there might be some movement with this. There’s one or two names that have been branded about, but at the moment it’s just a case of going with what we’ve got. We have Jamie Brown coming back from a similar injury to Sean that he suffered in pre-season and he managed to take part in a session on Tuesday with the rest of the guys.

Visitors Spartans have been on a fine run of form of late, yet to suffer defeat in September and will be eager to stretch their lead at the summit.

Elsewhere, Edinburgh City host University of Stirling at Meadowbank while Whitehill Welfare make the trip to the Borders to tackle Gretna 2008 at Raydale Park.