Spartans and Whitehill Welfare, two of the keenest rivals in East of Scotland League football over the past two decades, clash in the semi-final of the King Cup with both sides determined to reach the final.
There is always added spice when these two clubs face each other with Spartans now managed by a former Whitehill legend, Douglas Samuel, while the Ferguson Park outfit are managed by Mike Lawson, who, along with Sam Lynch, led Spartans to unprecedented success over the past ten years until they parted company last summer.
Spartans currently lead the Central Taxis Premier Division by six points from Whitehill who do have two games in hand ensuring that, along with Stirling University, the league title race will also go down to the wire with all three teams still having to face each other.
The scene is therefore set for a classic encounter at Ainslie Park where passion and emotion coupled with grit and determination will be the order of the day.
Spartans did not play last weekend, although in their previous game, a League Cup tie, they beat Tynecastle 5-1. “It has been a frustrating fortnight after our win against Tynecastle when we were very good and scored five goals with five different goalscorers. We were in a great mood, but were left kicking our heels last Saturday, although the break has given some players a rest and others needed some minor treatment, so we have made best use of the time.
“We are delighted to be in with a chance of winning the league with five games left and this is a really exciting end of the season for us. We have already had two high quality games against Whitehill this season with us winning 2-0 in the league and they beat us 2-1 in the South Challenge Cup.
“Both games have been tight affairs, and in that cup tie I thought that in the first half we were excellent in spells and it was disappointing to lose two goals from set-pieces.
“The second half was more even and we showed real determination to win which I think we would have done, but we just ran out of time.
“Tomorrow promises to be another tight game. Whitehill did fantastic to win the Challenge Cup last weekend and they will be determined to get to the final of another cup.
“They were beaten in midweek by Vale of Leithen, but that can happen in football and they will be looking to bounce back. We have had a lot of clean sheets and our tactical discipline will be that we must execute our game plan.”
Ross Gilpin will return to goals after recovering from a hernia operation, although Chris Anderson and Donal Henretty will miss out because of injury.
Meanwhile, in the Whitehill camp, manager Mike Lawson and his team have fully recovered from their 1-0 defeat to Vale of Leithen. “It was just one of these games. Vale fed off scraps, although Kerr Dodds scored a really good goal and they were catching us on the break. We may have lost an individual battle, but we have not lost the war. I don’t know if it was a reaction to winning the Challenge Cup final on Sunday or not. The boys know that they created enough chances in the first half to come in two or three up then we gave Vale something to hang on to.
“When the ball was bouncing about their penalty box it never fell to our boys for a clear hit. Football is a cruel sport at times and that’s why we love it.
“We just have to keep our heads up and get on with it. We certainly cannot feel sorry for ourselves. Spartans are doing very well and because of all of their games in the winter when no-one else was playing they have not had many games recently. We are match fit, although they will be sharp.
“Over the piece, we are in a good place and challenging for the league title irrespective of our defeat to Vale. After that game, playing against Spartans is probably the best game we could have had for getting our players to concentrate.
“Douglas [Samuel] has done great with a good squad of players and they are the most consistent team in the league, but they can be beaten.”
Lawson has John Hall nursing a bruise on his calf while Michael Bruce limped off in midweek although Dayne Robertson returns.
The action kicks off at Ainslie Park at 2.30pm with admission prices, adults £5.00 and concessions £2.