THERE’S little doubt Borders club Selkirk have found their short spell in the inaugural Lowland League a much sterner challenge than they may have envisaged.
Marooned at the bottom with just one win to their name all season – a shock 1-0 victory over Whitehill Welfare at the beginning of November – the Yarrow Park side can breathe a sigh of relief there is no issue of relegation to contend with come May next year. Tomorrow, they face the daunting prospect of a journey to the Capital to face league leaders Spartans at Ainslie Park, where Keith McLeod and co are expected to stir up something of a goal feast and inflict further misery on their vulnerable opponents.
However, Spartans midfielder Mark Whatley is urging his team-mates to err on the side of caution despite being overwhelming favourites to add another three points to their healthy tally.
The 23-year-old Edinburgh University PE student said: “It’s our last league game before the Christmas period and Dougie (Samuel) was reminding us of last year when we lost to Stirling and how it makes the Christmas period feel so much longer after a loss, so we don’t want a repeat this time around.
“It’s a really big game and we need to get the three points. We don’t have a league game again until the start of February, so we want to stretch our lead at the top.
“Although Selkirk have not picked up many points this season, a few weeks ago they beat Whitehill on their own patch, so it shows they are more than capable on their day.”
Whatley is now in his second season under the stewardship of manager Dougie Samuel, a real pull factor in itself by his own admission.
A former Raith Rovers player during John McGlynn’s tenure in Kirkcaldy Whatley then had a two-year spell in the Juniors with Tayport before his move to Spartans unravelled for the start of the 2012/2013 season.
“I knew Dougie as I sometimes trained with the uni team when I was with Tayport,” Whatley explained. “We did speak about going there at the time, but I decided to stay at Tayport for the time being.
“I then spoke to him again at the end of the season, and that was that, I wanted to sign.
“I’m really enjoying it under Dougie and the training is always really good. He likes to make it quite technical, which is good, because we’ve got such a good surface at Spartans.
“Even if it is based on running, it’s always to do with the ball, how we can pass it, move it around, so I enjoy that.”
Despite results suggesting that it has all been rosy in the garden for the nine-times East of Scotland champions, Samuel has been forced into making weekly alterations to his starting XI, with injuries and player unavailability restricting his more preferred options.
This, however, hasn’t been an issue for Whatley, who is thriving in the engine room of the Spartans midfield and has had plenty of game time under his belt.
He said: “We’re doing well as a team so far and it’s great to be playing week in, week out. There’s nothing better than when you are winning as well.
“The boys that are coming in and out are all quality players, so it’s easy to adapt to playing with different guys each week.
“I’ve noticed a big difference this year in general, and I know people keep saying the same things, but it’s a lot more competitive where teams are taking points off of one another.”