Spartans and Stirling University, the only two unbeaten teams in the Central Taxis Premier Division, clash on the all-weather surface at Ainslie Park with both clubs determined to keep their records intact.
Stirling are also trying to break their losing streak against Spartans whom they have failed to defeat in any of their meetings since the students joined the East of Scotland League four seasons ago.
“I have to give great credit to Spartans,” said Raleigh Gowrie, the Stirling University Sports Development manager who was previously the head coach with Spartans. “They have set the standards as the most consistently successful team in the past ten or so seasons. They won five trophies last season and they are the side that our players must aspire to, in order to achieve their levels of success both on and off the park.
“We have had some close games with Spartans but we have yet to chalk up our first win. It was similar to our record against Whitehill Welfare until this season although we have now beaten them twice already and hopefully we can now pick up a win against my old club.”
The students have retained the Alex Jack Cup this season with a victory against Gretna 2008 with whom they also drew 2-2 with last Saturday. “We were staring defeat in the face last weekend when we were 2-0 down but we recovered and came back well,” explained Gowrie. “Overall this season we have performed well for the most part although we have played only five Premier Division games, albeit there have been some good wins in these matches.
“However, Spartans are the marker for all other clubs in our league. I believe that what makes a league healthy is strong competition where the outcome is unpredictable. I think that raises the profile of the league although I have to accept that nothing can be taken away from Spartans’ achievements in recent times.”
Asked about playing on the artificial surface at Ainslie Park, Gowrie replied: “We train regularly on all-weather surfaces and they pose no problems for us as all of our players are young, fit and adaptable. Credit has to go to Spartans for having the foresight to install this type of surface which I envisage as being the future.”
Stirling have Craig Mason in exceptional form both as a creative midfielder and also as a goalscorer while Kieran McCaffrey has scored in four consecutive games. Striker Chris Geddes is deadly in and around the penalty box and has already scored over 20 goals from open play this season.
Spartans, meanwhile, have played only one competitive game in the past four weeks and co-manager Mike Lawson has this week been ensuring his players start tomorrow’s game with the correct attitude. “Last week we won 4-1 against Lothian Thistle when we scored our third and fourth goals soon after half-time,” said Lawson. “We then got a bit sloppy and allowed Lothian into the game and they scored meaning we had to change a few things around.
“Tomorrow against Stirling I know that Sam [Lynch, co-manager] and me will definitely not have to motivate our players because they know that they will have to be at their very best straight from the kick-off. We are the only two unbeaten teams in the Premier Division and there is therefore a lot at stake. I watched Stirling in the Alex Jack Cup final against Gretna and they have a very settled side that does not change too much from week to week at present.
“They are very organised and professional and we have explained to our players all about their possible line-up. I reckon that in their starting ten outfield players they have five who are naturally left-sided and five who are right-sided.
“I have been involved in football for about 50 years and I don’t think I have ever seen that balance in any team. While tomorrow will not decide anything in terms of the league championship it is, without doubt, a very important game for both sides.”
Omar Kader is in excellent form for Spartans and the wide player is also scoring goals. “On his day he is unplayable at our level,” enthused Lawson. “Omar is one of our flair players who can open up teams and he can also put the ball in the net.
“I’m expecting a close game and we will have to compete as well as we can.”
Spartans have Dean Hoskins unavailable along with long-term injury victims Jack Beesley and Chris Smith.
The action kicks off at Ainslie Park at 3.00pm. Admission is £5 for adults and £2 for concessions.