Newtongrange Star boss Alan Miller has denied that his side are favourites for the McBookie.com East Super League title, but insisted that if they were to be crowned champions, his team would go down in history as one of the club’s best ever.
The New Victoria Park men are currently top of the table, six points ahead of second-placed Bo’ness United, who have two games in hand. On current form, Star look favourites for the title having won six league games in a row since their last defeat back in December.
It may be mind games, it may not, but Bo’ness boss Alan McGonigal last week insisted Star will not be caught.
However, ahead of tomorrow’s vital league encounter against his former club Bonnyrigg Rose, Miller dismissed suggestions that Star are favourites, pointing to the experience of the three clubs hasing his side as being crucialin determining where the championship will end up.
“We are not getting carried away by talk of winning league titles,” said Miller.
“The teams that are in second, third and fourth place at the moment [Bo’ness, Bonnyrigg and Linlithgow] have seven Super League titles between them, so they know what it takes to win it. That will give them an advantage in the run-in. They are clubs that have been over the course before and have players that have been over the course before. We are a club that is trying to improve and this season demonstrates that we are ahead of schedule in our improvement.
“This is only our third season in the Super League. I’ve been telling the players to enjoy it. We want to establish ourselves and make sure we are in it for years to come, not just for a season and get relegated.
“As long as we continue to establish ourselves at the top end of the Super League, that’s what we are aiming to do.”
On the basis of this season, you’d be forgiven for thinking Newtongrange were one of the heavyweights in the division. Unbeaten this year, only losing one home match out of nine in the league, whilst conceding just six goals at home, Star certainly have the look of potential champions.
Yet, this is their first season back in the upper echelons of the East Juniors scene after gaining promotion from the Premier League last season, and being crowned champions in the process.
If they were to achieve back-to-back league titles, which Miller admits would be a “remarkable achievement”, they’ll do so by playing without pressure as Miller admits he did not foresee his side finding themselves in such a promising position with ten league games remaining.
He said: “I definitely didn’t expect us to do so well this season. I was expecting us to be safe, knowing the quality of the people in the squad we’ve got. We set ourselves a target of top six and having looked at the way we have gone about winning our fixtures, we have reshaped that and have said the target is now to break into the traditional top four of Linlithgow, Bo’ness, Bonnyrigg and Camelon.
“If we can break that up and finish in the top four then we’ve had a fantastic season. We’ll be doing our best obviously, we want to win. It’s almost an impossible achievement to win the Premier Division and go on and win the Super League. It would be a remarkable achievement. I don’t think anyone has done that before. I think it would make it one of the best playing squads ever. The players deserve enormous credit and they’ve got an opportunity to be seen in that light.”
Having previously played for and managed Bonnyrigg Rose before taking the reigns at Newtongrange in May 2011, Miller is well aware of the importance of the fixture to both sets of supporters and is delighted to see its return. Miller’s assistant Ian Black is also an ex-Bonnyrigg player, while several of the current Newtongrange squad can note the New Dundas Park side as one of their former clubs.
“It’s good that the game is back on the calendar again. It’s a derby, less so in recent years because Newtongrange have not been in the Super League. It will probably attract a crowd of 600 or so on Saturday. It’s good that Junior football can still stage that type of game. We are looking forward to it.”
Their first encounter this season ended goalless at Bonnyrigg, but despite sitting eleven points clear with home advantage and a game in hand over Rose, Miller is adamant the visitors are favourites.
He said: “We are the underdogs on Saturday. They are the experienced Super League club and team and have the second best all-time record behind Linlithgow Rose. I see them as favourites, although we will be trying hard to maintain our excellent home record.”
Both sides have fully-fit squads to choose from, apart from Darren Gillon and Joe Dunbar, who are both still out for Newtongrange but back in training after long-term injuries.