EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY head coach Douglas Samuel is braced for a formidable test when takes his young team to Ainslie Park for an earlier-than-usual 1.00pm kick-off against runaway league leaders Spartans in the Central Taxis Premier Division.
Last week the Students lost 2-1 at home to second-placed Gretna 2008 after conceding a late penalty but Samuel was not unhappy with the performance of his team. “We were bitterly disappointed not to take something from the game,” said Samuel. “Over the 90 minutes we did enough to take a point but not for the first time this season we were edged out in a tight affair.”
Samuel now relishes the opportunity of playing against Spartans, who they drew 1-1 with in their earlier league meeting. “We were delighted to take a point at Peffermill when Cyrus Moosavi scored a wonder goal,” said Samuel. “I don’t think that anybody would have begrudged us that point because we worked extremely hard to shut Spartans down and stop them playing. We played some good football that day and a draw was the very least that we deserved.
“Tomorrow is the biggest game of the season for us, going to play the reigning champions at the best football venue in the East of Scotland League against the best management team and also the best players in our league. In terms of experience you are comparing apples with oranges.
“Spartans have players who have been over the course a number of years and broken countless records so we have a huge amount of respect for what they have achieved as a football club both on and off the park. In players like Dean Hoskins, Omar Kader and Keith McLeod they have some of the best players in our league.
“Having said that, we are going to Ainslie Park with the intention of taking something from the game. In some ways there is less pressure on us than there has been over the past month when we have played league games against teams in the bottom half. We can go there and play with a freedom but at the same time be disciplined and organised. We have a gameplan which we will try and execute to the best of our abilities on the day.
“The league has not settled down yet in that Saturday will be our 13th league game and out of these we have played the top five teams nine times. I reckon that to stay in the Premier Division we still need another two or three wins so we will certainly be trying to take something from this game. We will probably look to freshen things up with one eye on the fact that over the next fortnight we will be playing seven games, so it will be extremely demanding.”
Tim Rawlinson is suspended and Calum Murray has a back injury although Andrey Kuzmenko is available. Meanwhile, the Spartans co-manager Mike Lawson is frustrated that his side played only one competitive game during the entire month of February.
“It has not been a normal season for us in terms of fixtures,” stressed Lawson. “We played our first 11 games away from home because of our new pitch then we had seven home games. We also had our Scottish Cup and South Region Challenge Cup scenario which meant that we were eliminated from both competitions [due to a rule infringement]. All of these situations have made life difficult for the League’s fixture secretary.
“The players have worked really hard at training and been very resilient. However, we are not as match-fit as we should be at this time of the season. We are now approaching the business end and we face an Edinburgh University side who I know will give us a difficult game. They always seem to up their game when they play us and it’s worth noting that that the only points we have dropped this season are to the two University teams, Edinburgh and Stirling.
“We were one-up at Peffermill when Edinburgh were short of players and I watched them last week against Gretna when it took a debatable penalty to split the teams. In James Craigen and Jack Beacher they have two fantastic players and we will definitely have to be at our best if we are going to beat them.”
Spartans will be without the suspended John Grant and the unavailable Keith McLeod which could mean starting places for Chris Anderson and Daniel O’Donnell although Jordan Finnie and Jack Beesley are also in the frame.
Admission is £5 for adults and £2 for concessions.