Manager aiming to beat relegation rivals, then gun for top half

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Derek RIDDEL, in his first season as manager of Leith Athletic, is optimistic that his team can lift themselves away from the relegation places, although he admitted: “Tomorrow’s game against Edinburgh University is a ‘must-win’ match for us!”

Leith, with only one win to their credit in the Central Taxis Premier Division, find themselves in second bottom spot, four points behind the students, and Riddel realises that failure to register a victory would make life extremely difficult. “We must win to keep in touch with the teams above us,” said Riddel. “Even a draw is not good enough if we want to pull some of the other teams closer to us. I honestly still believe that there is a top-half finish in us.”

Leith lost 4-2 last weekend against high-flying Gretna 2008, although it was a result which Riddel thinks flattered their visitors. “We lost a goal within 90 seconds then missed a penalty which deflated us a little bit,” said Riddel. “We then conceded another two quick goals to find ourselves 3-0 down after only sixteen minutes.

“However, we rallied and got the score back to 3-2 before we missed several good chances to equalise and even go ahead. We were then caught with a sucker punch against the run of play. We played well and created chances but unfortunately did not take them. We have worked hard on a few things at training this week and had a friendly against Tranent Juniors which we won 3-1, so we want to take all of these aspects into the game tomorrow. Our team is made up of basically young players who have been used to winning nearly every game for the past five seasons, but this season has been different and I feel that their collective confidence has taken a beating.

Turning his attention to tomorrow’s opponents, Edinburgh University, Riddel said: “They are a very tight team that does not give much away and I was surprised that they actually conceded two goals to Edinburgh City last Saturday although they won 4-2. They have some quality players including former Leith goalkeeper Mark Tait, who I think is one of the best in the league. They also have Jack Beacher and another player who I regard as the best in our league, James Craigen. If you allow him to play he can really hurt you. The University are a young team and, like us, they have their ups and downs but both sides like to get the ball down and pass it so it should be a good game.”

Riddel welcomes back Jack Combe and Neil Lowson from suspension and Martin McAuley is available, although there are fitness doubts surrounding Jon Manson and Lewis Cairns.

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh University head coach, Douglas Samuel, reflected on last Saturday’s 4-2 win against Edinburgh City by saying: “It was extremely important that we put a win on the board at this stage of the season although at half time, when we were losing 2-0, it looked like we had a mountain to climb. We went 4-2-4 as we felt it would be something different and we would be positive by getting as many goalscorers on the park as possible. Thankfully it paid off because we have played some good football this season and there is a real harmony and togetherness in our squad.

“If we were to beat Leith tomorrow, it would allow us to create some clear blue water between ourselves and the teams below us for the first time this season. I would rather focus on the positives which would mean that we were pulling in teams above us and we have our sights set on them to try and finish as high up the league as possible. I know Leith are a very good footballing side. I watched them against Spartans and, for 45 minutes, they were absolutely magnificent and led 3-0 so we will need to play at our best.”

Olli Vakalla, the University’s Finnish defender, along with Hong Kong-based Jack Beacher could start, while Mark Cathcart, who played in midfield last weekend against City, is likely to revert to his more accustomed defensive role.