As the 2016/17 Lowland League season reaches its conclusion this weekend, Spartans boss Dougie Samuel believes the club has become a victim of their own success.
The Ainslie Park outfit will finish third behind champions East Kilbride and last season’s relegated League Two team, East Stirlingshire, irrespective of the outcome from tomorrow’s visit of Dalbeattie Star.
But, as Samuel reflects on the latest campaign, one he admits hasn’t been without its frustrations, the former Edinburgh University head coach says that just because the club are nine times East of Scotland champions doesn’t give them the divine right to replicate that success at a higher level.
The club won the inaugural Lowland League championship three years ago but were then second best to Capital rivals Edinburgh City who won back-to-back league titles before securing their promotion to SPFL League Two last summer.
“If anything we’re probably in danger of harking back to the East of Scotland days and thinking we’ve got a divine right to win championships and trophy after trophy,” Samuel explained. “But let’s be honest here, the landscape has changed. The Lowland League is a completely different animal to the East of Scotland set-up as it’s a lot stronger and has a lot more depth.
“We’ve still managed to finish in the top three this season and won a cup [Football Nation Qualifying Cup] so the season has had some highs as well as some lows.
“We’re just a bit frustrated because I think we’ve shown in spells this season that we’re capable of achieving more, but that’s not to detract from anything that East Kilbride have achieved. They’ve won the league and they’ve won it comfortably but they are a fantastic side. They’ve built a (SPFL) League Two squad where there’s probably a few players in that side who could play at an even higher level so you can’t take that away from what they’ve managed to assemble.
“You can only control what you do, though, and we’ve shown this season against the other top teams in the division that we are competitive. If we’d shown that bit more consistency then clearly things would have been a lot closer. The frustrating thing for us was every time we threatened to apply a bit of pressure on East Kilbride we shot ourselves in the foot.
“The reality is that the two clubs that have finished above us have both got significantly larger budgets. That’s not to say that we should therefore assume it’s impossible for us to win the league because people will rightly point to the fact that Edinburgh City won the league and in consecutive seasons. But, as I said earlier, this league is completely different to what we were used to in the East of Scotland.”
Spartans have the opportunity to add another piece of silverware to the cabinet when they visit East Kilbride next Sunday in the first round of the Lowland League Cup and Samuel believes a morale-boosting win tomorrow can set them up nicely for the tie at K-Park.
“Listen we want to try and win the last cup of the season make no mistake about it,” he said. “But we’ve got a better chance of doing that and going to East Kilbride on the back of a good win against Dalbeattie. But we’re expecting a right difficult match tomorrow.
“We’re already in the process of identifying who we think can take us forward and allow us to be more competitive next season. Some players will also maybe feel the time is right to move on. I’m no different to any other manager in that I’ve probably got about 20 targets written down on a sheet of paper and you’re hoping you can get five of them.”
Elsewhere this weekend, Civil Service Strollers meet hosts Selkirk at Yarrow Park, bottom club Preston Athletic make the short journey to East Peffermill to play Edinburgh University and Whitehill Welfare are away to BSC Glasgow.