Douglas SAMUEL, an experienced campaigner on and off the park, is in his ninth season in charge of Edinburgh University and the head coach is arguably entering his most crucial spell with his young squad.
After eight successive seasons in the Central Taxis Premier Division – including a runners-up spot in season 2007-2008 when they finished only one point behind champions Whitehill Welfare – the students now find themselves, along with tomorrow’s opponents Leith Athletic and Selkirk, slightly detached from the rest of the league.
Samuel explained: “We are disappointed to find ourselves in the bottom three and at the wrong end of the table. However, I don’t think we have under-performed this season – I think that we have just found it difficult to put the ball in the net and ultimately that’s what has cost us numerous points so far in the league campaign. We have lost several games one-nil and in games where I felt we could have taken something from the game we have just not been able, on a consistent basis, to put the ball in the net.
“Our defensive record is very good considering the number of players we have used. We have had to chop and change all season and this is the first time that we find ourselves where we have a healthy squad and more depth within it. Having said that, we had an extremely tough game in midweek against Northumbria University away from home and two or three boys are carrying knocks and injuries on the back of that game which went to extra time so I don’t think we will have a full squad tomorrow but nevertheless we will have 16 or 17 fit first team players.
“The pain of defeat against Northumbria was so much greater having done so well in the competition last season when we reached the final. We are hugely disappointed to go out. Their goalkeeper made three or four fantastic saves on the day and that has been the story of our season so far with our inability to put the ball in the back of the net. This is the one aspect that has stopped us winning more matches.
“Tomorrow we face Leith Athletic, a team I have watched a couple of times this season. I watched them lose 5-4 to Spartans at Ainslie Park earlier in the season. In that first half they played some fantastic football and nobody thought that they were going to lose a game which they were winning 4-1. I was hugely impressed by their style and the manner in which they played that day.
“I think Leith are a bit like ourselves in that they are a young team who are trying to find their feet and their way in the Premier Division. Derek Riddel [the Leith Athletic manager] probably thinks that, like myself, they are just one win away from putting together a consistent run that might make all the difference.
“We can bring in one or two experienced players tomorrow including Mark Cathcart and Neil Irvine to help our young squad which has had to face so much adversity this season. We are in a strong shape now and the squad has reached its healthiest position just at the right time as we enter what could arguably be the defining month of our season when we have four huge Premier Division games. Our confidence levels are fine and our belief remains strong. We just need to put two or three results together back to back and then we can quickly pull other teams back towards us.”
Samuel will give fitness tests to Mark Gair and Tim Rawlinson tomorrow while there could also be starts for Andrey Kuzmenko, Calum Murray and Roy Chattergee. “The next few weeks are going to be huge for us,” stressed Derek Riddel, the manager of Leith Athletic.
“We meet Edinburgh University twice in the league along with Whitehill Welfare and Selkirk. These games will have a massive say on how our season goes. Tomorrow is the proverbial six-pointer against a University side which Douglas [Samuel] always has well organised and they do not concede many goals, something that I know Douglas works on. However, we can score goals although our defending can be a bit naive at times. We have been working really hard on that aspect, including defending from the front.”
Leith have Jack Combe and Neil Lowson suspended while regular goalkeeper Iain Gordon is unavailable and both John Manson and Martin McAulay are rated as 50/50 which could mean starts for young goalkeeper Matthew Banks along with Lewis Martin and Greg Tulloch.
The game kicks off at Peffermill at 2.30pm with admission prices: adults £3.00 and concessions £1.00.