Penicuik Athletic boss Craig Meikle should be chomping at the bit to lead his side out in their first-ever Super League match tonight against Midlothian rivals Newtongrange Star, but instead he has a severe selection headache with several of his players injured.
Pre-season is seen as an ideal time to provide your squad with the best preparation possible in order to be ready for the start of a new season, by making sure every squad member is fully fit to handle the whole campaign through arduous fitness work, whilst fine-tuning tactics in friendlies.
For last season’s Premier League champions however, their pre-season has been anything but ideal.
Injuries have wreaked havoc ahead of this evening’s season opener at home to Newtongrange Star, with boss Meikle even having to rely on a friend to provide players to enable Penicuik to fulfil one friendly due to their injury-ravaged squad.
“Preparation has been pretty disastrous to be honest,” said a downbeat Meikle.
“We’ve had an unbelievable amount of injuries which have hampered our pre-season plans.
“We’ve struggled to field a team for most of the friendlies and in one game I had to call on a favour from a friend of mine to bring a couple of his players along so we could fulfil the fixture.
“To say that our preparation for our first season in the Super League has been poor would be an understatement.”
Last season’s top goalscorer Ryan McCallum hasn’t played a single minute of pre-season due to a niggling knee injury from last term, while influential midfield men Ryan Gay and Jordan Lister will also sit out tonight’s clash.
Penicuik will look to replicate their neighbours this season after Newtongrange surprised everyone last term in securing fourth place after promotion from the Premier League the season before, and with the signing of experienced campaigners in Neil Janczyk, formerly of Hearts and Clyde, and David Burrell, who joins from Super League side Bonnyrigg Rose after 11 seasons with the club, they feel they can achieve just that.
Midfielders Janczyk and Burrell are big signings according to Meikle, but he’d still like to add a few more.
“They are both hugely experienced players who have replaced two players who we lost at the end of the season. They are a couple of big signings for us and we are still in discussions with another few players with a view to signing,” he continued. And despite not having the best of pre-seasons, Meikle is still confident his side can hold their own in the top flight, with a top-half finish being their main objective.
He said: “There was a bit of doom and gloom around the club with the way pre-season had gone. At the end of the day we are all still excited, we are going into the Super League. If it’s a struggle for a couple of weeks, so be it, but I’d be expecting us to finish in the top half of the league.”
In stark contrast to their local rivals, Newtongrange couldn’t have wished for better preparation ahead of the Super League kick-off.
Unbeaten in five pre-season friendlies, with three wins and two draws, plus four new signings including former Hearts player Craig Thomson and a squad largely all fit, it would be no surprise if Meikle was casting envious glances towards opposite number Alan Miller.
Miller can’t wait for tonight’s match, but he is expecting a tough evening at the home of Nitten’s rivals.
He said: “Everyone is looking forward to it. We understand it will be a tough game tonight as Penicuik have come up as champions and they’ll be confident and excited about their promotion year. When you add into the mix that it’s a local derby, it has all the makings of a good game.”
New signing Jack Wilson is Star’s only injury worry tonight, with fellow new signings Kris Renton, Jonny Court and Thomson all available to start.
Elsewhere, Bonnyrigg Rose host Musselburgh United at New Dundas Park, last year’s champions Bo’ness United make the short journey to face Camelon and Linlithgow Rose face Sauchie.