PRESTON ATHLETIC have unexpectedly found themselves preparing for a Lowland League Cup semi-final against East Kilbride tomorrow – and assistant coach Bob Baillie intends to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
A 4-0 defeat to Spartans at Ainslie Park last weekend looked to have put an end to the Panners’ cup hopes and their season. But Spartans’ naming of goalkeeping coach Mark Cairns on the bench as a trialist was a breach of competition rules and, at a disciplinary meeting on Tuesday night, the decision was taken to eject them and reinstate their defeated East Lothian opponents.
While Baillie would have preferred to have earned a semi-final place by beating Spartans, he was happy to take it under any circumstances.
“It was a big surprise to us,” admitted Baillie. “We didn’t expect that but we’ll take it and we’re looking forward to Saturday now – it’s another game to play. I didn’t know anything about what happened with Spartans so it really was unexpected. Obviously, I’d have rather gone through with a victory but rules are rules and we’ve got a chance. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and treat it like a semi-final. Chances like this don’t come along in football very often – whatever way it’s come about – and we have to go and take it, a chance to go on and win a cup. It’s a great way to end the season. Honestly, with the season we’ve had, finishing second bottom, this is a great way to go and end it well and build for next year.”
Preston manager Willie Kirk was named as the new boss of Bristol Academy last week and had already committed to taking official charge this Saturday, before news of Preston’s reinstatement. Baillie, along with Sean MacAuley, will take charge of the team for Saturday’s game at K-Park – something they’ve done before against the same opposition. “We took the team for the last game against East Kilbride and set them up to go out and play. The previous game against them we’d lost 6-0 so we set up to try and get a result and I thought the boys battled and competed well but there was a wee bit of a lack of quality that stopped us from winning that game.”
The interim boss revealed that both he and MacAuley would be interested in taking over from Kirk on a permanent basis, but is purely focused on Saturday’s second chance at cup progression for now. “ It [the Bristol job] was one that Willie couldn’t turn down and I think it came out of the blue. At Preston we’re sad to see him go as he was starting to build something here and we’ve been looking good. But as I said, it was one of those opportunities that he couldn’t turn down and I wish him all the best.
“It’s a job that does tempt me and Sean but we’ll be speaking about that after Saturday. Our main focus is to prepare the team and then we’ll think about it and what’s the best way forward for the club. The team we took over were young guys and their first year in the Lowland League – what we’ll take from it is how hard the league is.”
The pair face a tough task in overcoming East Kilbride. “They’re very strong, they’re one team in the league I’ve been very impressed with,” said Baillie. “Them and Edinburgh City are the two strongest in the league that we’ve played against – they’re very well organised, good on the ball and work for each other.”