Lothian Thistle boss Ryan Harding is aiming for a top half finish after Penicuik victory
Penicuik lad Joe Viola’s super-strike downed his hometown club as Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale leapfrogged their hosts as they made it three East of Scotland Premier victories in a row with a 1-0 win at Penicuik Park.
Viola produced a moment of magic in a scrappy encounter when he sent a 25-yard stunner looping over the head of home goalkeeper Robert Watt with 12 minutes remaining.
Sunday’s victory takes Lothian into the top half of the table for the first time this season, and after teetering on the brink of relegation last season – only to be saved by Tranent’s promotion to the Lowland League under Calum Elliot – it was ironic that Lothian spoiled Elliot’s first match in charge of new club Penicuik.
“I think that’s the first time we’ve come away from here with a win,” said Lothian boss Ryan Harding. “It wasn’t an ideal start, one our best players last week Tony [Muir] called in ill this morning, and then Ricky [Miller] had work issues so he never got here until five minutes before kick-off; he literally got changed and walked right out.
“It wasn’t ideal preparation for us, but we came here on the back of five wins out of seven and we said to the lads ‘If we go and win again, it’s another step towards confirming our status in the league for next year’.”
So, what’s changed for Lothian from being on the brink of relegation to the First Division last season, to competing with the best in the league?
Harding continued: “I’ve always had faith in the squad, a young squad, and what they needed on the pitch was a bit of guidance. Since Ricky and Tony have come in, they’ve added experience to the team which has helped the younger boys. Being young, energetic, and having enthusiasm is great, but sometimes you need that older head on the pitch just to help them and I think they’ve been a big part in what we’ve done.
“Teams will look at the league and think they’ve got games in hand on us, but we’ve got the points on the board and that’s the most important thing. This time last season, we were down there looking up for favours, whereas now we are in a good position and our form is really strong.
“We said to the lads two months ago ‘let’s try and have a real push and try and finish in the top half’. We are in the top half now, don’t get me wrong, Penicuik have got five games in hand but we have got there and we now want to stay there. We’ve got five games left so we will be looking to get as many points as we can. If we were to finish in the top half it would be a great achievement for us with our budget.”
The fixture at Penicuik Park wrapped up a successful Groundhop weekend as supporters from across the UK descended on Edinburgh and the Lothians for a football feast. A crowd of 448 witnessed a thriller between Tynecastle and Sauchie on Friday evening, with the visitors running out 3-2 winners. Impressive crowds followed in Saturday’s staggered fixtures, which culminated in a surprise 4-0 Broxburn Athletic victory away to Musselburgh Athletic.