GARRY AITCHISON, the Civil Service Strollers manager, has guided his side into second place in the Central Taxis Premier Division and, by his own admission, this position has surpassed even his wildest dreams at the beginning of the season.
But they face their biggest test of the season so far when they visit Ainslie Park to play champions Spartans tomorrow.
“There is no way that just before Christmas and basically the half-way stage in the league that I ever thought that we would be up there challenging Spartans,” admitted Aitchison.
“I know that we have played a few more games than some teams, but we have hit a good patch of form and the players deserve to be where they are because of the hard work they have put in.”
The Strollers have won their last three games against Tynecastle (3-0), Edinburgh City (3-2) and Selkirk (3-0) to propel them into this lofty position and, not having won the East of Scotland League title since season 1972-73, they are determined to make a concerted effort for the remainder of the season.
Aitchison has strengthened his squad with the addition of Scott Gormley, David Jeffreys and Jody Shiels and he reckons the competition for places is proving to be a crucial factor. “Our position is really down to how well all of our players have performed,” continued Aitchison. “Scott has already scored 13 goals since he joined us, David can defend and has pace, while Jody has a dimension to his play which we have not yet been able to exploit fully. Against City we adapted well to the weather conditions and against Tynecastle our boys stood together which was good to see.”
The Strollers will be playing their first-ever game on Spartans’ artificial surface although this holds no fears for Aitchison or his players.
“Spartans were kind enough to allow us a full 90 minutes training session at Ainslie Park early in the week and all of us agree that the surface really makes you play more football.
“Of course we are playing Spartans who are one of the best teams in the league and this will truly show the character we have in our side.
“I am confident we can cause them problems. They do have great players, including Omar Kader and Keith McLeod along with recent recruits Scott Fusco and Alasdair MacKinnon. Their entire team is made up of very good footballers.
“I want all of my players to play to the top of their abilities and hope that maybe Spartans have an off day and that we can capitalise. I am not arrogant, but certainly confident.”
Aitchison has John Dunn available, but Michael Sommerville faces a late fitness test.
Spartans, meanwhile, were in action last Saturday when they came from behind to finish 1-1 with Stirling University.
“I was quite positive about the referee’s decision to put the game on although the conditions possibly affected the game if not the result,” said the Spartans co-manager, Mike Lawson.
“I was disappointed we did not hit the target more often and the result probably helped the Strollers, Gretna 2008 and Whitehill Welfare more than Stirling and ourselves.
“Strollers have sneaked under the radar and caught people by surprise. Garry Aitchison is now an experienced manager and I would imagine that even he would be thinking the Strollers are in a higher position than he would have thought.
“Having said that, I know the Strollers are a threat, especially with the pace and goals of Scott Gormley, while Craig Dickson and Neil Campbell are both great players.”
“There is a lot more to come from Spartans and the best has yet to be seen although both Sam [Lynch, co-manager] and me are delighted with the way things are going.”
The game kicks-off at 1:30pm with admission charges, adults £5 and concessions £2.