Spartans have no margin for error in Lowland League title race

Dougie Samuel is urging his Spartans side to win their last three Lowland League matches. Pic: TSPL
Dougie Samuel is urging his Spartans side to win their last three Lowland League matches. Pic: TSPL
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Spartans boss Dougie Samuel believes his side will have to win their remaining three fixtures if they are to secure their first Lowland League title in four years.

The Ainslie Park side are now in the driving seat having assumed top spot from East Kilbride following last weekend’s 2-2 stalemate with East Stirlingshire. The two sides are now just separated by a single point in what promises to be the most exciting climax to the season since the league’s inception in 2013.

Spartans had trailed the reigning champions by nine points following Kilby’s 2-0 triumph in the Capital at the beginning of February. However, with three games in hand, Spartans were back level pegging going into last Saturday’s crunch clash at Ochilview.

Starting with tomorrow’s trip to Gretna 2008, Spartans make a swift return to the Borders on Wednesday night when they head for Dalbeattie Star before the league campaign draws to a close with the visit of East Stirlingshire next weekend. Billy Stark’s side, meanwhile, have a tough ask of three away trips starting at title outsiders BSC Glasgow tonight, before trips to Whitehill Welfare on Wednesday and University of Stirling three days later.

However, Samuel reckons his players have the more difficult run-in.

“I think we’re going to have to win all three games to win the league,” the former Edinburgh University boss said. “That’s not being disrespectful to the other clubs but we’re approaching our own games with the assumption that East Kilbride are going to take maximum points from their three matches.

“To be top after 90 per cent of the league campaign, I think the players deserve a lot of credit for that. But nobody will remember that come the summer. The most pleasing thing is that having played catch-up we’ve put ourselves in a position with three games to go that it is now in our own hands.

“I think when East Kilbride beat us at home in February, they probably looked at the table and saw they were nine points ahead and thought we weren’t capable of going on a run and clawing that deficit back. But, we have bounced back because that was a really disappointing defeat that day.”

Their lead over the South Lanarkshire outfit could have been another two points better off had Derek Ure not drawn East Stirlingshire level two minutes into stoppage time. As deflating as that was, Samuel acknowledged they achieved what they set out to do.

“It was a crazy final three or four minutes,” he said. “It was a combination of things that probably cost us the two points. A draw was probably a fair result, though. We went there with an objective of leaving there top of the table and we achieved that. While we were disappointed in the aftermath of the game, we soon picked ourselves up and reminded ourselves that we’re sitting top of the league with three games to go.

“With some of our matches having been off recently because of the weather, it’s been a bit disheartening. Due to circumstances outwith our own control, that momentum has been impacted in a negative way. But we’ve just got to try and stay focused and be positive. There’s no point in trying to work out all the permutations so we’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

He continued: “We’re expecting a tricky game at Gretna tomorrow. We’ve played them twice this year and beaten them 1-0 at our place and by the same scoreline after extra time in a cup match, so we know how difficult it’s going to be. I don’t think there’s any denying we have the harder run-in.”

Meanwhile, Whitehill are the visitors to Ochilview this weekend where hosts East Stirlingshire await. Edinburgh University are at bottom club Hawick Royal Albert and Civil Service Strollers welcome Vale of Leithen to Christie Gillies Park.