It wasn’t in the script for the inaugural Lowland League to pose Whitehill Welfare manager Mickey Lawson with his toughest test since he entered into the management fold 25 years ago.
The reigning East of Scotland champions have so far failed to apply the consistency they were accustomed to on their way to lifting the league championship crown just nine months ago.
Lying ten points adrift of league leaders Spartans and occupying seventh position in the table hardly represents the rapid decline in misfortune that Manchester United boss David Moyes has encountered with his star-studded squad.
Still, though, it is a far cry of the form expected from the Rosewell side who are considered to be one of the most successful clubs in non-league football.
Last weekend’s 4-3 triumph at the expense of Leith Athletic earned the club a place in the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup final to be contested next month, yet it was a six-week period towards the end of October that had Lawson in a bit of a quandary.
“That spell was the worst I’ve felt in my management career,” he recalls. “Nothing will take that away whatever we do between now and the end of the season. You’ve just got to get on with it. We played Preston (in October) and I changed the system before the game – we scored nine and then the next week we played the exact same team and formation and we got beat 5-1 by Edinburgh City.
“The difference in the performance levels was unbelievable from one week to the next and then we got beat by Selkirk the following week, which has been their only win of the season.
“Next we went down to Gala, had chances to win the game, but got a man sent off and got beat 3-0. It was then made worse because there was no fixture the following week because of the weather, so I had a lot of soul-searching to do. I’ve never had a period like that because I don’t remember losing three or four consecutive matches at East of Scotland level. It was a really difficult time.”
One factor that has proved detrimental to Whitehill’s disappointing league campaign has been player availability this season. Injuries, disciplinary problems resulting in suspension and holidays have all been a factor in leaving Lawson with limited options when it comes to selecting a starting XI.
He said: “I sat down in the dressing room either last Saturday or the Saturday before and everyone was there and fit. I basically said to the players if they had realised how much we’ve underachieved this year. When you have them all together and see the quality we have, we’ve not done ourselves justice.
“But we’re unbeaten this year, so we still want to push up the table as much as we can. We’re well aware we’ve got Stirling both home and away and we play Spartans as well, so it’s not going to be easy.
“We can still win the league mathematically, so that’s what we’ve got to think. But realistically, I want to see us in the top three of four and even then that will be a bad season for us.
“You don’t lose six league games out of 22 and win the league, so we’ve just got to win as many as we can and see where that takes us.”
Whitehill will be without striker Aaron Somerville for the visit of title-chasing Stirling University at Ferguson Park tomorrow – a real setback for the hosts as Lawson reinforced.
“Aaron is away to Jamaica as his sister is getting married, so he’ll miss this week and next. Aaron and Wayne McIntosh have scored 37 goals between them this season, so that’s a big gap to fill.”
Defender Mike Bruce is also a doubt with a back problem, but will be given time to prove his fitness.