Spartans boss Dougie Samuel admits Lowland League title is destined for Bonnyrigg

Spartans manager Dougie Samuel admits Bonnyrigg Rose are unlikely to be caught in the Lowland League title race, but he is philosophical about his team’s season so far and the prospects for 2022.

Monday, 3rd January 2022, 5:00 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd January 2022, 5:18 pm
Spartans boss Dougie Samuel feels his squad is stronger and his team is better than this time last year. Picture: Mark Brown
Spartans boss Dougie Samuel feels his squad is stronger and his team is better than this time last year. Picture: Mark Brown

The north Edinburgh club invested heavily in the summer to mount a title challenge and enter 2022 in third place, with 50 points from 24 points.

It is a very good return, but not enough to keep pace with a Bonnyrigg side who have won 20 of their 23 games and look destined to finish the season as champions.

Spartans are 11 points behind having played a game more. They host north Edinburgh rivals Civil Service Strollers on Tuesday (7.45pm) and travel to Bonnyrigg on Saturday knowing that even a win at New Dundas Park would probably not be enough to stop Robbie Horn’s runaway leaders.

“We can’t afford any slip-ups, but you look at them and there’s no sign of them slipping up,” admits Samuel.

“Just look at their goals against column in the league. It tells you how well they defend as a team.

“A team that can defend that well, and they have done for a number of years, is not going to lose the number of games that they need to lose.

“You have to try to motivate yourself to set new targets because Bonnyrigg are having an incredible season and deserve all the credit in the world.

“We’ve been having a good season ourselves so we shouldn’t get too down on ourselves.

“We’ve got to focus on ourselves, on getting better and improving. That’s all we can do.”

There is a lot for Samuel to be positive about. He feels the club is in a much better place going into 2022 than a year ago.

The league is tougher, but Spartans have improved.

“I think the direction of travel is upward,” he reflects. “We’ve got a stronger squad, a better squad. We’re not there and we know we’re not there yet.

“We know what we need, but it is not easy. Everybody is going after the same players, so that’s tough.

“We want to have a good second half to the season, do well in the South Challenge Cup and finish as high as we can in the league.”

Covid complications, of course, might come into the equation. The pandemic hasn’t just affected the full-time professional game. Semi-pro managers have found it difficult to negotiate too, with flexibility required over team selection.

Samuel explains: “It’s a big week. We’ve got two really, really tough games and we don’t know who is going to be available.

“Players are unavailable on the day of a game if they fail a test, so as a manager you’re trying to juggle the pack with that in mind as well.

“It’s a unique situation that I’ve never found myself in before.”

Given his experience – Samuel will celebrate ten years in charge at Ainslie Park this summer – that says a lot about how difficult it has been.

Samuel keeps things in perspective. He is simply grateful that matches are being played.

“It’s been strange with the last two seasons finishing early,” he adds. “Hopefully we can play out a full campaign this year. That would be nice.”

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