Paul Hartley is concentrating on the big picture after Cove Rangers’ season began with a home defeat to Stirling Albion.
All three of the Balmoral club’s friendlies were cancelled due to Covid and that misfortune continued on Saturday with an unexpected defeat to the League Two Binos in their Premier Sports Cup opener.
Cove went in at the break 2-0 down and, while a Fraser Fyvie double hauled them back into the tie, Nathan Flanagan’s 94th-minute strike landed a late suckerpunch for Stirling.
Hartley says that, while his side can do better, the priority after a scuppered pre-season must be getting players sharp for when the League One campaign kicks off against Falkirk on July 31.
He said: “We were a bit rusty. We’ve spent a lot of time on the training pitch but not had games so that was always going to be the case. I was just happy to get a game.
“We could’ve done better with the (Stirling) goals. The goals we lost were not great, poor on our part.
“We did have some good play at times in terms of possession but we’ve got a lot to work on. But it was pleasing to get the game and get players some minutes as some hadn’t played for a while.
“We always want to win games but I feel at this moment in time it’s about gradually building guys up with game-time.
“The important thing is to get through the next three games as best we can.”
Recent signings Ross Draper, Iain Vigurs and Morgyn Neill all made their debuts against Stirling, with Hartley commending them for their performances despite the defeat.
He added: “I thought Vigurs was terrific. He set up the two goals.
“I had to put Draper back to centre-back (in the second half) and he’ll get better as games go on.
“Morgyn will do the same, he’ll do better in certain situations.
“It was their first game together, so overall it was good to get them 90 minutes under their belts.
“That was the pleasing thing and we’ll look forward to Tuesday (against Hearts) now.”
Supporters were back in attendance at Balmoral Stadium on Saturday, with a maximum uptake of 500.
Having even a limited number of spectators back enthuses Hartley, who hopes to see more permitted ahead of the League One kick-off.
“It was good to see people in the ground,” he said. “It’s been so strange over the last year or so.
“Last season we didn’t see any spectators whatsoever, it was quite an eerie feeling.
“So to see fans back, I was pleased for them. It’s a bit of normality for them. Hopefully we see mounting numbers over the next few weeks.
“Our next home game is against Inverness (Tuesday July 20) so hopefully we get a good crowd for that and, if everything goes well, we’ll have decent numbers in for the Falkirk game.”
Decent numbers is exactly what Cove will play in front of the next time they take to the field; 2,000 fans will be at Tynecastle when the north-east side face Hearts on Tuesday (7.45pm).
The Premiership side top the group after defeating Peterhead 2-0 in Saturday’s other Group A match.
Hartley spent four fruitful seasons with the Jambos as a player, winning the 2006 Scottish Cup, and wants to see a committed display from his charges in Gorgie.
“We’ll need to work hard, that’s for sure,” said Hartley, who could be without Ryan Strachan for the tie after he was forced off with a calf problem against Stirling.
“We’ll probably have more to do off the ball when we go to Tynecastle.
“But it’ll be a good atmosphere at a good venue – 2,000 fans will be there. It’ll be a good test for the players.
“We just want to them put the work in. That’s all we ask.”