Spartans can’t wait for test against Premiership clubs

Derek Riddel
Derek Riddel
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Spartans first-team coach Derek Riddel says this month’s mouth-watering Betfred Cup fixtures are their just rewards for last year’s title-winning campaign.

The Ainslie Park club’s first league crown in four years ensured League Cup qualification this season, where they have been drawn in Group H alongside Premiership clubs Kilmarnock and newly-promoted St Mirren, Dumbarton of League One and League Two side Queen’s Park.

While Spartans’ league rivals are finding their way back up to speed following their summer hiatus, Dougie Samuel’s men are about to be thrown in at the deep end.

Stephen Aitken brings his Dumbarton side to the Capital tomorrow for the Group H opener and despite Riddel – who will take charge of team affairs in place of the unwell Samuel – admitting the next couple of weeks will provide a real test, the former Leith Athletic head coach insists his players have just as much right to be there as their group rivals.

“Being in this season’s Betfred Cup is a reward for our efforts of winning the league last year,” Riddel said. “We’ve been drawn against a couple of full-time and top quality outfits, so it’s going to be really tough.

“We’re under no illusions. Obviously St Mirren have got Alan Stubbs as their new manager and Kilmarnock have Steve Clarke who did so well for them last year, so they will both be great occasions. With having Queen’s Park in the group too, the players will also get the opportunity to play at Hampden next week.

“But we start off against Dumbarton tomorrow, who are a good side and have made some good signings during the off-season.

“We’ve done well in the friendlies we have played so far, but we’re looking forward to getting going tomorrow as there’s nothing better than a competitive game.

“Everybody, I suspect, will expect us to finish without a point in he group so we’ll be out to prove a few people wrong. But we know how tough it is going to be. We just want the guys to go out and enjoy playing at that level. Everybody will play a part and get their opportunity, that’s certainly the plan.”

Spartans have recruited well over the summer with striker Jack Smith brought in to spearhead their attack. The son of former Dunfermline and Airdrie frontman, Andy, was snapped up from Lowland League rivals BSC Glasgow, with Harry Girdwood also arriving from Falkirk. Riddel revealed there remains space in the squad for further reinforcements.

“We’ve kept a good chunk of players from last season which is pleasing,” he said. “The few players that have come in have supplemented the squad that’s already here so we’re happy with the balance.

“Jack has been the top scorer for the past two seasons in the league so he’s a proven goalscorer at this level. He’s settled in really well, he’s a good trainer and he’s mixed well with the boys so he’s been a really good addition. The gaffer has done really well to get him on board as I’d imagine there were other clubs after him.

“Everyone is excited to get going again. What we achieved last season was superb. Other teams in the league have really strengthened so we’re going to have to play really well this season to match what we achieved.

“The [SPFL Pyramid) play-off defeat is well and truly out of the system. We’ve focused on the good things. The Cove game was a good experience for our younger players and I think we were all able to take something from that as it was great to be involved. I suppose what it does show is how hard it is to get promoted into the SPFL.”