Newtongrange Star manager Alan Miller believes his team have the opportunity to achieve something special this season given the start they’ve made to the Super League campaign and their performance in the cup competitions.
The New Victoria men are competing on all fronts as we enter the second half of the season. Miller’s side are second in the table, three points behind league leaders Kelty Hearts, but with a game in hand.
Nitten have lost just once in the first half of the season – against Kelty – and, along with Linlithgow Rose and Bo’ness United, they appear to be the three main challengers looking to overhaul the Fife club.
“I was saying to the guys on Sunday that it’s probably only five months until the end of the season,” said Miller. “They’ve been working hard since the beginning of July and we’ve set a good platform. We are still in all four competitions so there is a lot to look forward too and a lot of big games to come. If they can keep their feet on the ground, we have an opportunity to achieve something this season.”
Newtongrange began last season in similar fettle and entered 2014 with a chance of back-to-back league titles, after securing promotion and the Premier League title the season before. Their title challenge faltered towards the end of the campaign, however, and they ended the season in fourth place behind Bo’ness, Linlithgow and Bonnyrigg Rose – a successful season nonetheless.
Miller’s side host near neighbours Penicuik Athletic tomorrow – a team aiming to replicate what their local rivals achieved last season after Penicuik won promotion this year from the Premier League.
The Newtongrange boss got an unexpected opportunity to watch Penicuik in action when they hosted champions Bo’ness last weekend. He had planned to spy on Blantyre Vics, Nitten’s Scottish Junior Cup fourth-round opponents, but their match was called off.
Miller is expecting a tough match tomorrow against Penicuik, the team Nitten opened their league campaign against with a 3-0 away victory in August, but he is hopeful that home advantage could prove crucial.
He said: “Penicuik are having a great first season in the Super League, so we know it will be a tough game; the games against Penicuik are generally tight. It’s a local derby with bragging rights in Midlothian, and all the usual stuff. They seem to be improving and moving on as a club as well, so we know it’s going to be tough.
“They have some good players and we know it’s going to be a difficult match up here. We are at home obviously, so we are looking forward to doing well at home again. I’m pretty sure there will be a big crowd just after New Year.”
Miller, in his 34th season in Junior football as a player and as a manager, believes Bo’ness and Linlithgow have to be the benchmark for Newtongrange as a club. The former Linlithgow player points to the fact that the duo continue to compete in all competitions late in the season – a feat he would like to achieve with Newtongrange.
He added: “The guys that have been over the course before are Bo’ness and Linlithgow. We are continually talking about improvement of performance individually and as a club. That’s what we talk about constantly here. There are still 15 league games to go as well as the cup competitions, so it’s going to come thick and fast. That’s what Bo’ness and Linlithgow have to put up with every year and we want some of that. We want to be one of those clubs competing at the latter stages of all competitions year on year, not just sporadically.”
Newtongrange defender Guy Kerr is back in contention after two months out with a medial ligament tear. Kerr took part in Nitten’s 6-0 friendly win over South Division leaders Haddington Athletic last Sunday. Stevie Noble is Nitten’s only doubt, while Penicuik are without Grant Killin, who damaged ankle ligaments last weekend and is expected to be out for a couple of weeks. Striker Danny Rennie is unavailable.