Lowland League: Tranent boss Colin Nish on promotion favourites, transfer targets and B teams

It’s been a remarkable start to life as Tranent Juniors boss for Colin Nish, but the former Hibs and Kilmarnock striker isn’t getting carried away.

He insists his team are not favourites to secure the Lowland League promotion play-off place this season and that his squad still needs strengthening in one particular area. Trying to keep a lid on expectations going into a crucial spell of fixtures is understandable. Nevertheless, the 41-year-old from Musselburgh can’t hide the satisfaction he has had from his team’s recent run of results.

Two wins and two draws, against Rangers B and Spartans, in November have been followed by hard-fought victories this month at home to Hearts B and Cumbernauld Colts. To all intents and purposes, (when Rangers B are taken out of the equation for the purposes of promotion) the East of Scotland champions now lead the way at the top of the Lowland League and are not just in contention for back-to-back promotions but emerging as one of the favourites.

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The next two fixtures, away to high-flying Stirling University and Celtic B, are huge. Both of them are two points behind Tranent with a game in hand. Alongwith the students, East Kilbride and Spartans are in the promotion mix and not far behind, while Civil Service Strollers and Broomhill are hanging in there too in one of the most intriguing Lowland League promotion races in years.

Tranent boss Colin Nish is keeping a lid on expectations as his team go into two huge games in the Lowland League promotion race. Picture: Phil Johnson

Tranent beat Stirling University 2-1 when the teams met at Foresters Park in August. That was when Calum Elliot was still in charge, and the students have improved markedly since then, booking a Scottish Cup last-16 meeting with Dundee United and enjoying a six-match winning streak in the league. That has included wins over East Kilbride and Spartans, underlining the scale of the challenge facing Tranent at Forthbank on Saturday.

Six points from their next two games would put Tranent in a very strong position, with games against three teams in the bottom four to follow around Christmas. Nish, who took over as manager after Eliot stepped down in late August, isn’t looking that far ahead and is playing down his team’s promotion chances.

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“We just take each week as it comes and get as high up the table as we can,” he said. “We’re not sure exactly where we will end up at the end of the season, but we don’t feel we’re strong enough at the minute. There are teams like East Kilbride, who have just signed three new players in the last month, who have been trying for a few years to win this league again and have plenty of experience in it. We’re maybe a bit behind them, but we are showing qualities good enough to keep us at the top end of the table, so you never know where you might end up.”

Nish feels his squad don’t have enough firepower in attack. It is an area he is actively looking to strengthen, especially with Kris Renton out injured. Martin Maughan returned from holiday to score the winning penalty against Cumbernauld on Tuesday night. On-loan Edinburgh forward Nicky Reid scored his second in two games to take his tally for the season to six, but is more of a number 10. A former striker himself, Nish feels he needs another option.

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“We've been looking for someone to help the boys out for a while now,” he added. “Martin Maughan, who missed the game against Hearts, is a big player for us. Kris Renton is out injured. So we’re a bit light in that area.

“It’s a problem area, but we don’t want to just sign anyone. We want to sign someone who is exactly what we need and is going to be here against next season to push us along. It’s really about waiting for the right person to come along who will compliment the rest of the team. We are looking.”

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One thing is for sure, Nish is enjoying himself. The former Cowdenbeath manager and Hibs youth coach lives locally in Musselburgh, his home town, and has simply picked up where Elliot left off. He has a spirited, experienced team who know how to win and has the best defence in the league. Tranent have conceded fewer goals (23 goals in 20 games) than anyone in the 19-team league.

The presence of the three B teams in the league is not something his club voted for, but Nish quite enjoys coming up against them because the games present a different challenge for him as a coach.

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“I find the standard of the Lowland League a lot better than what I thought,” he explained. “The games are exciting. I think it is really good having the younger B teams in the league. It is great for their development and for us, we’re playing different types of games. We get moved about by the likes of Hearts, Rangers and Celtic in a way you don't by other Lowland League teams. They are different games and there’s different ways of winning those games as well, which is good for us.

“I’m enjoying it. I live in Musselburgh, so it is not far for me. It means I can really get my teeth into it. We have a great bunch of boys. The guys who own and run the club as well are excellent. I’m really enjoying it. We’ve been winning and we’ve not gone through one of those sticky patches yet when you don't win. I’m sure we will have one at some point, but I’m enjoying it so far.”