Ian McFarland would have known that promotion with Edinburgh City would have meant a raft of new opposition and experiences, but he probably didn’t bank on coming up against player with AC Milan and Celtic on his CV.
Massimo Donati and his Hamiton team-mates visit Meadowbank tonight (kick-off 7.45pm) in City’s penultimate Betfred Cup Group G game. The Italian midfielder made an impressive goalscoring debut for Martin Canning’s team in Saturday’s 3-0 win over St Mirren.
McFarland, who has spent the majority of his career at Meadowbank, is relishing the prospect of testing himself against an opponent boasting such pedigree. “I think he’ll be a bit of a baller,” he laughed. “I remember watching him in Old Firm games and occasions like that so to play against somebody like him will be amazing. I’ll need to wait and see how he is tonight.
“Even though with these League Cup games, you know you could be paying against some top players, somebody like him, who’s been on the fringes of the Italy squad when he was in his prime. It’s crazy to be coming up against somebody like that. It’s definitely something that me and all the boys and I will relish. Whatever happens in the game, it’ll be a massive learning curve for everybody. Their standards will be so high on the park that it’ll be hard not take anything away from it.
“They’ve established themselves in the Premiership for a couple of seasons now so it won’t get much tougher. We’ll go in to tie with confidence and see what we can do, but we know how good they’ll be. We just need to keep that belief and confidence we’ve taken from the last two games and I’m sure we’ll do fine.”
Despite not scoring a goal or winning a point in their two group games to date, McFarland believes City’s Betfred Cup experience will prove far more valuable preparation for their maiden League Two campaign than a regular pre-season. “It’s probably much better than any pre-season games Gary [Jardine] could have arranged,” he explained. “They’re competitive and players that you’re playing against want to make a name for themselves so they can get into their teams for the start of their leagues. We’ll have played two Championship teams and a Premiership team by the time the fixtures are finished and I don’t think you can get much better preparation than that.
“They’re just so much sharper and I don’t want to say it, but more intelligent than we are. They’re more streetwise in how they manage the game and so much better than what we’ve been used to. We need to adapt quickly in how we deal with it. I think we’ve got the quality to match teams, although we won’t be playing in the same league, but we just don’t have that experience.”
Manager Jardine has stated more than once that his players will need to learn quickly having made the step up from non-league football and McFarland believes the is starting to happen. “The honeymoon period is over, with going up and there glamorous games etc,” he said emphatically. “After the second half performance against Livingston, everyone started to really take in what they need to do. That was a reality check – things that we’d been getting away with in the Lowland League just get absolutely punished at the higher level. Everyone realises now though the sort of level we’ll have to be at.”
As well as new opponents, McFarland has a new midfield partner to get used to in Dean Cummings, signed din the summer from East of Scotland League outfit Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale. According to his long-serving midfield colleague, the verdict is so far, so good. “He’s come in and been brilliant,” enthused the 25-year-old. “He’s got such an appetite and energy, I think that given a bit of time we could form a really good partnership. He’s been great, so hopefully he can just continue to progress further over the next few months.”
n Edinburgh City’s Irn Bru Cup first-round tie away at Motherwell Colts has been scheduled for Tuesday, August 2 with a 7.45pm kick-off. The match will be played at Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium.