Whitehill Welfare head in to tomorrow’s Central Taxis East of Scotland League Cup semi-final clash against Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale as huge favourites to book a spot in the final.
The Rosewell team’s season stalled midway with three successive league defeats in January preceded by a loss to Edinburgh City in the final of the Image Printers Cup the previous month. It resulted in the resignation of boss Rab Paget and all but ended their league title chances.
But under new manager Grant Carnie, Whitehill have embarked on unbeaten streak of 11 matches since then, including five straight wins in the last three weeks. Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory over Vale of Leithen, meanwhile, handed them their third clean sheet in a row.
And as his team looks to go one step closer to bringing silverware back to Ferguson Park after two barren seasons, such formidable form makes it hard for even Carnie to downplay his side’s chances.
“At this moment in time, I don’t think anyone wants to play us to be fair. We are on a great run and we’re tough to beat.”
In fact, Welfare’s recent form has been so impressive that two big results against Spartans and Stirling University – who are still to meet each other for a second time – could yet hand the side a late tilt at the league title. Another second semi-final tie also awaits next weekend when Spartans provide the opposition in the King Cup.
“There’s a good togetherness about the team at the moment,” explained Carnie. “The boys do everything you ask them to and just get on with things. And alongside Edinburgh Uni, it’s definitely made us one of the teams in form. We’ve already made it to a cup final this season and lost to Edinburgh City, which was a bit unfortunate, but hopefully the lads will go out tomorrow and give a good performance. If they go out and win 5-0 or 1-0 it doesn’t bother me so long as they put a good shift in and work hard for their team-mates – and get a result. With Michael Bruce, Michael Herd and Alex Munro all fit, the home side should have a full squad available.
That’s in stark contrast to Lothian Thistle HV’s situation, with manager Raymond Carr having a first-team squad of just 13 at his disposal. With suspensions ruling out regulars Alan McDonagh, Conan McDiarmid and Scott Wallace, reinforcements will need to be drafted in from the Under-19s.
“We started the season with a squad of 22, but by the time I joined in December that number had gone down, and it hasn’t been possible to bring new players in,” said Carr.
“When we beat Whitehill 3-2 in January in a very good league game, I thought that we’d turned the corner, but we had just six of the first team available for the game against Selkirk, and it’s a frustrating position to find ourselves in.”
Saturday’s 3-1 loss to bottom-of-the-table Selkirk in their last outing leaves LTHV hovering just two points off the relegation zone of the East of Scotland Premier Division, and Carr knows that tomorrow’s game is not just a one-off cup game that can be forgotten if lost, but a match which could prove crucial to the club’s fortunes for the remainder of the season.
“There’s no doubting that tomorrow’s match is going to be a tough one for us, but I’m hoping that we can take something from it going into the league match against Whitehill next Wednesday.
“The outcome of this game is going to affect the players’ mentality. It’s a learning curve for the young lads, but they’ve done well to step up and I hope it will be a close encounter.”