ALAN MILLER is hoping his Newtongrange Star players can use their ‘bonus ball’ to land an early-season jackpot.
The Midlothian side face East Region giants Linlithgow tomorrow in the final of the Dechmont Forklift-sponsored League Cup Final at Broxburn’s New Albyn Park (2.30pm kick-off).
It’s a Premier Division versus Super League clash, with Linlithgow strong favourites to claim the season’s first piece of silverware for the second year running.
“To be in the final is a bit of a bonus for us,” admitted Miller, who took over at Newtongrange at the end of last season, shortly after he had left his post at Bonnyrigg Rose.
“Considering the turnaround in the squad, it was pretty remarkable that we managed to come through a qualifying section that included a decent Musselburgh side.
“We brought 12 new players in and to have made such a start at a time when they’ve been bedding in is testament to the squad for the way they’ve approached things.”
The two finalists head into the trophy showdown on the back of contrasting results last weekend.
Linlithgow crashed out of the Scottish Cup at the hands of arch-rivals Bo’ness but Newtongrange came from 2-0 down to win 5-2 at Broughty Ferry in a league clash.
“I don’t know how Linlithgow will react to last Saturday but they’re a big club – the most successful in the ten years of the East Region Super League – and will see this is an opportunity of winning a trophy and getting back on track,” added Miller.
“I’m sure the Super League will now be their priority but, at the same time, they’ll be keen to win the first piece of silverware up for grabs this season and kick on from there.
“It is a hard one for us but I want to see us give a good account of ourselves. If we have a good day and Linlithgow have a bad one, then you never know.”
After losing to Tayport and Broxburn in their two previous league encounters, Miller feared the worst after Newtongrange conceded two goals inside the opening 14 minutes against Broughty Athletic.
“But they recovered well and we were delighted as it’s a tricky place to go,” he said. “The players sorted it out themselves on the park.
“They had the confidence to keep passing the ball, as they are asked to do, and were back on level terms at half-time before going on to get their reward with the win.
“It has given us a bit of breathing space going into the League Cup Final as we’d have been under a bit pressure otherwise. Even this early in the season, it’s highly unlikely we’d be able to mount a challenge in the league if we’d lost last week.”
Alistair Foster, a 20-year-old who was signed from Arniston Rangers, is settling in well at New Victoria Park, having been converted from a midfielder into a striker.
“He did well last week against [Broughty’s former Hibs defender] Steven Tweed,” noted Miller, who is also excited about the likes of 19-year-old John McDonald and Lewis Turner at 18.
“We are developing a young squad and one that is full of enthusiasm,” he added.
Tomorrow’s clash marks the start of an important three weeks for Newtongrange. They face Sauchie in the league next Saturday then entertain Bonnyrigg the week after in the second round of the Scottish Cup.
“Needless to say, I’ve received plenty of texts since that one came out of the hat,” joked Miller.
“They are three big games. The players should enjoy them and I will, too, as it’s always great to pit your wits against the likes of Dave Baikie.”
Linlithgow got some practice on the plastic pitch at New Albyn Park when they drew 2-2 with Broxburn in a friendly on Monday night.
To help his players get a feel for playing on an artificial surface, Miller held one of Newtongrange’s training sessions this week at Spartans. “Other than that, we are not going to approach this game any differently,” said the Star boss, who intends to get as much information as he can from former Lithgae star Kevin Donnelly, now at Newtongrange, about his old team-mates.
Linlithgow, who beat Camelon in the final to lift this trophy last season, had already been knocked out of the East of Scotland Cup before their loss last week at Bo’ness.
“I felt in the first-half they were a bit sharper than us. We were on heels a bit and they were picking up the second balls,” reflected Baikie.
“But we started the second-half better and, after getting the equaliser, we were the team on the ascendancy until they went in front again through a wicked deflection. Players get deflated when that happens when you are on top. It wasn’t to be but all the best to Bo’ness as they worked hard.”
Turning to this weekend’s task, Baikie added: “Newtongrange are a decent side, so there’s no time for us to be moping. It’s a chance to win a Cup and that would be the best tonic for us.”