Newtongrange Star boss Stevie McLeish feels the atmosphere around the club has completely changed this season after a campaign in which they should have been relegated from the Super League.
Star lost out in the end-of-season relegation play-off to Forfar West End and were only spared the drop to the Premier League due to league champions Kelty Hearts’ switch to the East of Scotland League, with the East Junior FA wishing to keep the number of clubs in the top flight at 16.
The New Victoria club were rooted to the bottom of the table for the majority of the season and only managed to halt their demotion thanks to a late-season revival in which they went eight games unbeaten.
Now, with a squad revitalised after a number of changes in the summer, confidence is high with McLeish’s side having already won 50 per cent of last season’s home win total after just five games.
“At this point last season I was thinking ‘Please let me just win a point or a football match’, and at this point I’m now looking at it saying ‘Let’s try and get ourselves as much padding around us as we possibly can’,” said McLeish.
“If we get ten wins as soon as we can we know we’ll be pretty much safe, then we can look right up the table. I think when you look at the points total we’ve got it just shows you have far we have come to be honest. It’s a happy place at the moment, the squad is settling down and has thinned out with guys leaving who weren’t making games and others who decided to move on.
“Last season’s squad was full of quality. You don’t lose one player to Kelty, two to Bonnyrigg and one to Bo’ness if you don’t have good players. The players were good enough but for whatever reason it just wasn’t clicking. That’s in the past now; it clicked when it needed to when we went unbeaten in our last eight games. That was pretty awesome and showed the potential of that team, however, it was always going to break up after such a hard season.”
Nitten’s home record last season was like a millstone around their neck, with it taking until November to put their first three points on the board on home turf.
Beating Dundonald Bluebell in their season-opener at New Victoria Park in August was a huge lift, and ahead of hosting Camelon tomorrow, they sit 11th and seven points clear of bottom spot.
McLeish is adamant that games against the clubs around them will define where they end up in the league standings come June.
He continued: “Saturday is a significant game because I perceive Camelon in a similar vein as I do our own team. The mindset of the players is in question, because if you can deal with it against Lochee at home who were top of the league, how are we going to be against Camelon who are one or two places above us?
“These are the games that going to define our season, so that’s what I have to get through to their heads.
“It’s a bonus point when you’re playing teams that you perceive of that are bigger then you, but the teams around you, you have to take care of, because if you don’t you’ll be in trouble and that’s where we found ourselves last season.
“Over the course of the season it’s been proven time and time again that the teams who spend the most money will be at the top end of the league, that’s a fact. You aren’t going to compete over 30 games, but you hope in a one-off game you can do something.
“Where we fall down is when we get beat off the teams around us.”
Elsewhere, league leaders Penicuik Athletic visit Broughty Athletic as they look to maintain their unbeaten start. Linlithgow Rose are also on the road away to Jeanfield Swifts, while Bo’ness United travel to Lochee United.