Spartans’ co-manager, Mike Lawson, is extremely angry that his side face Whitehill Welfare at Rosewell tonight, kick-off 7.15pm, in what is a Central Taxis Premier Division league decider, on a holiday weekend.
Lawson says that four of his first-team regulars, including captain Robbie Manson, goalkeeper Chris Flockhart, defender Kevin Sivewright and attacking midfield player Omar Kader have all arranged to be away for the weekend.
“As far as I am concerned, I was under the impression that if our game against Whitehill and the Vale of Leithen versus Stirling University games became league deciders then they would be moved from the Friday evening,” fumed Lawson.
“When the fixtures were changed only two weeks ago Sam [Lynch, co-manager] and I immediately flagged up a problem for Spartans tonight. We are extremely surprised that as a club we were never sounded out about a Friday fixture on a holiday weekend but we were assured that the East of Scotland Football League secretary was aware of our situation and that if Stirling won their games in hand, meaning the destination of the Premier Division title was dependent on the only two remaining games at Rosewell and Innerleithen, the fixtures would be moved.
“By Monday lunch-time at the beginning of this week it was obvious that this was not going to happen and Sam and me were going to have to shape a team without five players who have started 95 per cent of our league games this season, three of them ever-present.
“We don’t have a big pool, as the four Under-19 players on our bench at Stirling University on Saturday will testify, but we will call on our younger team as well as trialists from our club’s Juniors, whose season has now ended.
“As things stand, Sam and I are happy with the team we can put out tonight and we are sure that they will give it their best shot.
“Spartans going to Ferguson Park any time in the season is not an easy proposition but on the back of Whitehill’s excellent League Cup win on Tuesday night and a chance of revenge for our King Cup semi-final win against them last midweek, we could not have asked for a harder game.
“Our players must ignore whatever goes on at Innerleithen and try to go out and beat a very good Whitehill side. That won’t be an easy task but it is what we must achieve to have any chance of retaining our title.”
Spartans, apart from the four players away for the weekend, will also be without the suspended Donal Henretty although Keith McLeod, John Grant and Jonny Seeley all return after missing out last Saturday in Spartans’ 1-0 defeat from Stirling University. The destination of the championship flag could not be more evenly balanced with Spartans and Stirling University both level on 48 points and, with only tonight’s games left, Spartans have a goal difference advantage of plus one.
Whitehill Welfare, fresh from their 2-0 victory against Edinburgh City in the final of the League Cup earlier in the week, are hoping that goal-scorer Scott McCulloch will be available.
Kevin Twaddle, Whitehill’s assistant manager, said: “Scott has been struggling with a hamstring injury but has been doing all the right things and he fully deserved his goal because he is a fantastic lad and he deserves what he gets from the game. He will be given every chance to play tonight.
“Spartans are sitting at the top of the league along with Stirling for a reason. We want to be as good as these teams and hope that next season we can challenge them.
“We respect Spartans for being top but tonight is a massive game for us and we want to win it.
“They beat us 2-0 in the King Cup semi-final only last week and that was very sore because I felt the scoreline was unjust although I may be a wee bit biased.
“We are taking this game tonight very seriously and if we go out and beat Spartans and some other team wins the league then that’s what happens. Maybe it would be good for the Premier Division for a different team to win the league. However, we know that tonight will be a tough task for us.”
Twaddle will give late fitness tests to John Hall and McCulloch to add to a full-strength squad.
This contest could well be one of the most enthralling games of the season with players, management and spectators all anxious to know what is happening simultaneously at Innerleithen.