Strain out to upset ‘best non-league team in Scotland’
FOLLOWERS of Auchinleck Talbot can be excused for finding this season to be a bittersweet undertaking in the wake of the side’s wonderful William Hill Scottish Cup exploits.
On the one hand, they have delighted in victories over Banks O’Dee, Wigtown & Bladnoch, Wick Academy and Cove Rangers that have set up a third-round tie away to yet another Highland League outfit, Fraserburgh later this month.
But on the other rests the realisation that every cup triumph is simultaneously adding to a backlog of Junior fixtures which has Talbot sitting in a lowly ninth position in the Premiership standings having playing five games fewer than league leaders Hurlford United.
Tommy Sloan’s men are a model of consistency and surely the one team capable of closing the 17-point gap, however it’s a huge ask for a 19-man squad that also retains a burning ambition to do well in the Junior game’s two most prestigious cup competitions – the Ardagh Group West of Scotland Cup and the Macron Scottish Junior Cup.
Talbot are the reigning Scottish holders and are strongly fancied to clinch a place in this season’s last 16 after this week’s Evening Times-staged fourth-round draw landed them with a Castle Park meeting against Blantyre Vics, however an arguably stiffer test of considerable magnitude awaits in the West where Willie Lyle and Co will be out to get the better of rivals Kilwinning Rangers at Abbey Park today.
Buffs boss Chris Strain is urging his players to rack up back-to-back upsets after inflicting a first league defeat on Hurlford last week but a number of selection woes are conspiring to prevent him naming the same line-up.
Playmaker Liam McGuinness is a definite non-starter after being unveiled as Kilbirnie Ladeside’s new team manager in midweek while versatile defensive ace Tommy Maitland is missing through work commitments with summer signing Garry Fleming battling to overcome a hamstring strain.
Strain admitted: “Auchinleck have always been a formidable force but right now they are officially the best non-league team in Scotland.
“Cove were reckoned to be the best after going all the way to a League Two play-off game last season only to lose out against Cowdenbeath so Talbot have now taken their title.
“They have already beaten us twice this season but both games were closefought affairs and we are capable of getting one over on them by playing to the same standards as we did against Hurlford.
“There’s no such thing as easy pickings when you play Talbot but if my players are in the mood then we can be a match for anyone.”
West Region officials have revealed the West of Scotland Cup second-round draw will be taking place at Portland Park today immediately after Troon’s tie with Royal Albert and with Ardagh group director of operations Graham Shepherd and former Scotland manager Craig Brown tasked with pulling the 32 surviving names from the hat.
‘‘ If my players are in the mood we can match anyone
Kilwinning Rangers manager Chris Strain