James McDonaugh: Edinburgh City can play with freedom against Montrose

James McDonaugh
James McDonaugh
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Their own Ladbrokes League Two safety may not quite be secure yet, but Edinburgh City boss James McDonaugh insists his players go to title-chasing Montrose tomorrow with nothing to lose.

Following Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw with Stirling Albion at Forthbank, City have lost just one of their past seven games – a 3-0 reverse to Clyde, the division’s form side.

Their opponents sit second in the table and are still battling it out with Peterhead to become champions and claim the one automatic promotion spot that goes with it. Stewart Petrie’s men are level on points with The Blue Toon, with an inferior goal difference but a game in hand. City have only managed a solitary goal against The Gable Endies this season – Lewis Allan’s late consolation in a 3-1 opening-day defeat at Ainslie Park. Despite that, McDonaugh’s message to his players is a simple one.

“I’ve said to the players, even on Tuesday, when you play these teams that are meant to be better than you, in the top three in the league, you’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “Everybody expects you to get beat so if you get something out of the game it’s a bonus. It was a bonus on Tuesday.

“This is one of those leagues though. You look at Clyde, who won again on Tuesday night – I wouldn’t bet against them winning the play-offs if they make it. Danny Lennon’s done a great job. You’ve got Peterhead and Montrose, one top and one second so it’s been nip and tuck for a lot of things in the league.

“Teams can go on a wee run and stretch themselves so it just shows you the competitiveness of the league. Let’s be honest – ten teams: one wins the league, three are in the play-offs – there’s always something to play for.”

What hasn’t been competitive recently is the fight for places in McDonaugh’s squad. A crippling injury list has meant City have regularly failed to fill their bench, with just four substitutes available at Forthbank on Tuesday.

Spent suspensions aside, it’s likely to be a similar scenario at Links Park tomorrow. “Craig Thomson will come back from suspension,” he confirmed. “Scott Shepherd might not be far away.”

Despite the lack of options, McDonaugh was able to shuffle the pack sufficiently in midweek to leave with a point. “When you’re 2-1 down with three on the bench and you’ve already made a sub, you’ve got to come up with something,” he explained.

“It did help, going from three at the back to four. It started to get us on the front foot with a wee bit more legs up front. It was a goal from a free-kick but I think we got up the park with Calum [Hall] off the right, Lewis [McLear, trialist] off the front, and Graham [Taylor] on the left.”

Taylor’s ability to run in behind has proved to be valuable for City with Shepherd being unavailable. The on-loan Dundee United man netted his second City goal against his hometown team, and McDonaugh believes he could have scored even more.

“He was a real threat and I think pace at any level always sticks out,” said the City boss. “He caused Stirling so many problems and could have had a hat-trick. His goal wasn’t even a chance to be honest, he’s made it out of absolutely nothing. You can look at the goalkeeper but Graham’s on to him before he even knows the ball’s at his feet.

“Obviously we’re missing Shepherd so Graham’s been an important player for us. He gives us that out ball, if you like, with the speed he’s got.”

With two teams below them, a gap of 11 points between themselves and the foot of the table, and only seven games remaining for Cowdenbeath to make that up, City look good for survival. Until it’s certain however, picking up points wherever they can is vital.

“It’s about just plugging away, exactly that,” said McDonaugh. “We’re well aware that that gap could change if there’s a win and a defeat the wrong way. There’s a lot of football to be played. I think everybody outside the club will be saying ‘aw you’re safe’ but we’re not safe until the league table tells us that.”