LEITH ATHLETIC, in their first season in the Central Taxis Premier Division after gaining promotion last year, are determined not to be regarded as “one-season wonders” ahead of their clash with title favourites Spartans at Telford College Sports Centre tomorrow (kick-off 2:30pm).
Leith currently occupy second-bottom position, which, if they do not improve on, would see them relegated come the middle of May.
However, manager Derek Riddel, who took over the reins at the beginning of the season, is optimistic that his young squad can survive in the top flight after a run of six games undefeated, including four league matches. Leith have picked up eight points from a possible 12 and have also advanced to the semi-finals of the King Cup where they will face Stirling University.
Leith, with 12 points from their 15 Premier Division games, are now only one point behind Vale of Leithen and three behind Lothian Thistle. They have seven games left, and Riddel has set his side a target of 13 points from these games. “I reckon that 25 points would almost certainly guarantee any team safety,” he said.
This target may seem a tall order, although Riddel is quick to point out that in their previous league meeting with Spartans they actually led 4-1 at Ainslie Park at half-time before conceding a late goal to eventually lose 5-4. “Our first half performance that day was probably our best display of the entire season,” said Riddel. “We knew that Spartans would have a lot of the ball in the second half and they pushed us further and further back.
“I felt that both sides showed mutual respect for each other and both allowed the other to play football. At that stage of the season [November 5, 2011] we were still learning about life in the Premier Division and we are now in a better position with almost another six months under our belts.
“We are on a six-game unbeaten run and that has revitalised our confidence within the squad and the players are now acclimatised to playing at this level. Last Saturday, we played some great stuff and knocked the ball about well in our 3-2 win against Coldstream.”
Turning his attention back to Spartans, Riddel said: “Obviously Spartans have been the best team in the East of Scotland League for the past few seasons with their co-managers Sam Lynch and Mike Lawson moulding them into a series of great teams.
“They have super players including a couple of Leith Athletic graduates, Kerr Dodds and John Grant. Most teams in our league would gladly take 90 per cent of the Spartans team, although this season they appear to have lost more games than usual.
“We score a lot of goals, as do Spartans, so this could be a high scoring encounter.”
Riddel has Willie Bremner in goalscoring mood at present as well as Jack Combe, and between them they have scored five goals in Leith’s previous two games against Civil Service Strollers and Coldstream, while in defence Martin McAulay and Neil Lowson have struck up a good central partnership.
“Our players are now more confident and this Premier Division is now not so new to them,” added Riddel. “We are going into this game to give it our best shot.” Riddel will be without Matty Banks and Darren Smith, who are both on holiday.
Spartans, meanwhile, benefited in midweek even although they did not play when their nearest challengers for the title – Stirling University – were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Lothian Thistle.
Sam Lynch, the Spartans co-manager, said: “Before we take to the pitch tomorrow I will be reminding our players that although we have beaten Leith twice this season, both games could have gone either way and we don’t ever want to be three goals behind again in any match.”
Spartans are hopeful that Donal Henretty and Alasdair MacKinnon will be fit and Robbie Manson, along with Omar Kader come back into contention.