David Bingham is hoping Preston Athletic can cap their impressive form in the cup competitions this season by being crowned Lowland League Cup winners this weekend.
The Panners have toiled to set the heather alight in the Lowland League, but they have the chance to illuminate their campaign with some silverware when they face Stirling University at Gala Fairydean Rovers’ Netherdale ground in Sunday’s final.
Preston finished top of section A to qualify for the semi-finals with four wins from their Group Six matches and then overcame an impressive Dalbeattie Star side 3-1 at Islecroft two weeks ago to seal their spot in this weekend’s showpiece clash.
Their reputation as cup specialists is enhanced by their 2-2 draw against SPFL 2 side Queen’s Park in a Scottish Cup tie at Hampden last October before they lost narrowly in the replay at the Pennypit.
Bingham couldn’t put his finger on why his players have raised their game for cup fixtures this season, but he will be quite content if they are able to rouse themselves again on Sunday. “I don’t know why it has been the case,” said the Preston manager. “Maybe it’s the big stage but the flip side of it all is our inconsistency has let us down.
“This Sunday’s game, to me, is bigger than what we faced at Hampden against Queen’s Park. They equipped themselves against a team from a higher division and were maybe unlucky not to win.
“So hopefully the boys will remember those performances and especially our most recent one at Dalbeattie. We’ve beaten Spartans this year as well, albeit in the league, and had a couple of really close matches with Whitehill, so we’ve had some decent days.
“There is strong evidence that on our day we can compete with the best teams.”
Preston have failed to come out on top in their previous two league encounters with Stirling, with Eddie May’s side winning 3-1 in East Lothian in the second fixture of the season before running out 3-2 winners at Forthbank at the beginning of February.
Bingham is therefore under no illusions as to just how hard Sunday’s game will be.
He said: “They are a very good side and play the game the right way and at a very high tempo. They’ve got a lot of good young players who have been recruited from pro-youth both in Scotland and England and have been coached to a very high standard, so it’s a challenge for us.
“I don’t want my players to come off having any regrets as I want them to go out and play the way we have all season and score goals. I want them to enjoy the occasion, I don’t want them to be in awe of it because it may well be the last cup final they get to, myself included. They don’t come along very often so first and foremost they’ll be told to go and enjoy the occasion.
“It’s the first Lowland Cup final so there is a bit of added spice there for ourselves and Stirling. I want the players to give me 100 per cent effort, application, attitude and if they do, then whatever will be will be.
“If we are beaten by a better side then I can live with that. They’ll be well drilled but they’ll not need me to tell them they will need to play well to win. Stirling are sitting third in the league for a reason.”
Without wanting to draw too much attention to his squad, Bingham also believes this may be an opportunity for his players to showcase their ability to those in attendance on Sunday.
“You never know who’s watching,” Bingham stressed. “There might be one or two players who have ambitions to play at a higher level and what better a platform to do it on than against one of the top sides in a cup final. That should also be in their minds.”
Adding his opinion on the decision to play the match in Galashiels, Bingham said: “Geographically, I don’t think playing there is ideal. But we know where it is and we’ll be preparing to travel down on the bus on Sunday.
“We’ve played down there a couple of times against Gala already so we know what to expect. It’s a 3G which is pretty much standard and it will suit both teams because both teams want to play a good attacking brand of football.
“That said, I’m a bit of a traditionalist and have always preferred grass but I don’t think it will have any bearing.”
Preston top scorer Sean Martin will miss the game due to suspension with a few unnamed players also unavailable.