A COUPLE of seasons ago, a visit from Bonnyrigg Rose would have been an everyday match for Bathgate Thistle. The Creamery Park outfit were a Super League side and Scottish Junior Cup winners in 2008, bankrolled by benefactor Willie Hill, who was also the manager. Life was good at the West Lothian club.
That abruptly came to an end on Christmas Eve 2008, when Hill, after 31 years involvement, cut all ties with the club. Since then, Bathgate’s fortunes have faded. They eventually dropped out of the East Juniors’ top flight and have found themselves stuck in the Premier League. Season 2013/14, however, could be when Bathgate make it back into the big time, and it’s predominantly down to a rising star in current manager Bob Main.
President Jim Walker brought Main to the club over the summer after he guided Pumpherston into the Premier League from the South Division, with the remit of getting Thistle back into the Super League.
So far that bid is well on track. Bathgate currently lead the Premier League by four points and are well-placed to get promotion.
Tomorrow offers a different test for them, though, as they face Super League opposition for the first time this season in Bonnyrigg, who arrive in West Lothian on East of Scotland Cup duty.
Bonnyrigg are the current holders of the trophy and will offer Bathgate a good benchmark as to how ready they are to mix it with the big boys.
“Bonnyrigg are a side I came up against last season with Pumpherston and it was a tough one,” recalled Main. “I think we will need to be at our best to get a result. Bonnyrigg will know they are in for a tough game – we’ll be in their faces from the kick-off.”
A look at Bathgate’s goals-for column in the Premier League table and one would expect them to have a fine chance of toppling Bonnyrigg, who sit ninth in the Super League.
Thistle have scored 42 goals this season in just 11 Premier League matches. However, the goals have – by the team’s own high standards – dried up in recent weeks.
Main’s men only scored seven times in October, which is meagre compared to the 31 goals they banged in during the six matches they played in August. Main is hoping Bathgate can rediscover their scoring touch for Rose’s visit.
“We seem to have lost the scoring touch,” the 29-year-old explained. “Early on it was goals for fun, but now it’s a struggle. I think other teams are starting to figure us out now and making it harder for us.
“The saving grace is that now we are grinding out results and still getting the points.
“I would be worried if we were dropping down the table, but we’re still up there battling for top spot.
“Luck seems to have deserted us a wee bit, but we’re still in there fighting. We’ll be in there hoping our scoring form returns big style.”
Bonnyrigg manager Max Christie knows how difficult a test his side face in the cup. “We played Bob Main’s Pumpherston side last season and they showed great spirit in their side,” he said. “I’m expecting the same again tomorrow. Bob seems to get the best out of his players and that’s what you want in a manager.”
Christie is buoyed by his own side’s return to form, which has seen them win their last two matches over Kelty Hearts (3-1) and Musselburgh Athletic (3-0).
“We look to have recovered from a run of poor results and bagged a couple of good wins in the last few games,” Christie continued. “Injuries have been a big problem for us, though, and hopefully it is starting to get better. However, tomorrow we have Kris Renton, Alex King and David Burrell all struggling and they are big players for us.
“Bathgate have players we need to be aware of, with winger David Swan a real threat.
“We’ll be ready for Bathgate. We know it’ll be tough, but they will know if they are to beat us they will have to be playing good football.”
Elsewhere in the East of Scotland Cup, Linlithgow are away at Blackburn, Penicuik host Dundee North End, Whitburn travel to Hill of Beath, Livingston United are away at Thornton Hibs, while Fauldhouse also make the journey to the Kingdom to play Kennoway Hearts. Dalkeith have home advantage against Lochgelly, while Arniston entertain Dunbar with a close game expected.
In the Super League, local bragging rights are at stake when Broxburn travel to Armadale.