Elgin City manager Gavin Price accepts his side is still playing catch up ahead of their first pre-season friendly at home to Ross County today.
City returned to training on Thursday after suspending all football activity for a 10-day period, following a number of positive Covid-19 tests across their squad.
Price still does not have a full squad for the visit of the Staggies – which 220 home fans will be allowed to attend – with a handful of players still recovering from the virus.
The Elgin boss says the situation is far from ideal but he is determined not to rush the process, with another friendly against Strathspey Thistle on Tuesday ahead of their first Premier Sports Cup match at home to Arbroath next Saturday.
Price said: “We’ve still not got everybody available.
“There is no doubt it has affected us over the last two weeks, because a lot of them have been off ill as well as having to self-isolate.
“We are definitely behind schedule in terms of preparation, but there are potentially a lot of teams who have had similar things.
“It’s just another challenge that has been in front of us, that we have to deal with.
“The focus is on the home game against Stranraer on July 31, and that will be our focus right through the League Cup and the friendly games we’ve got.
“I’ve got to be careful I don’t try and speed up the process. We are behind at the minute, but we don’t want to make the situation worse by forcing players to play or train too much, or overdo things, as that will result in injuries.
“We just have to balance it and be patient. We are not where we want to be just now, we have missed games and training sessions, but we just have to adjust.”
Elgin had to cancel friendlies for their first team against Luncarty and Nairn County over the past week due to their Covid-19 situation.
Price says facing the Premiership Staggies in their first match is not ideal, but he is keen to use the group stage of the Premier Sports Cup to build up for the start of the League Two season.
He added: “I would have liked to have had a couple of games before this one, which we had planned. We always look to have a routine with our pre-season matches.
“It’s a difficult one to start with, but it’s really about getting minutes in the legs for the players.
“The scoreline won’t matter – it will be about getting players through the game safely. We will then move on to Tuesday when we play Strathspey Thistle.
“The next week or so is really about getting through these games, and unfortunately we are going to have to use the League Cup in that manner as well.
“It’s all going to be about preparation for the league which it normally is, but we are going to be playing catch up.”
Price says the condition of players recovering from Covid-19 must be monitored in the coming weeks, adding: “We have probably got about 70% of the squad available, there are still half a dozen players out who would be playing.
“I have to hope the Covid situation doesn’t affect us in the longer term, and these players make full recoveries.
“It’s something that generally doesn’t get thought about. I noticed on Thursday that a couple of players that had been ill with Covid, it really affected what they can do and how they can train.
“It’s not just a case of saying that’s it once they are through the illness, because the after effects of the illness will affect different people to different degrees.
“For a lot of players it could take four, five or six weeks to make a proper recovery from it, but hopefully not longer than that.”
Despite County letting 10 first-team players go at the end of the season, they do have 20 signed players ready for the trip to Elgin.
Malky Mackay’s first signings for the club may well make their debuts for the Staggies.
Attacking midfielder Ross Callachan, who has come in from Hamilton, and former Gillingham striker Dominic Samuel, who arrived at Victoria Park this week, will be after some instant game time.
And last night they snapped up left-back Jake Vokins on loan for a season from Southampton. A decision on whether he’ll face City will be made on Saturday morning.
Mackay could well run the rule over a number of trialists as he seeks to bolster his options.
Before the capture of Vokins, the Staggies had no recognised left-back in situ, although Tom Grivosti, Connor Randall, Alex Iacovitti or Regan Charles-Cook are capable of filling in there.
In goal, County have three guys named Ross to go between the sticks in Ross Laidlaw, Ross Munro and Logan Ross.
One smart piece of business concluded before the new manager arrived was handing Laidlaw a new two-year contract.
The players’ player of the season earned the Staggies key points in their successful bid to beat the drop.
The backline boasts Randall, Grivosti, Iacovitti as well as experienced duo Keith Watson and Coll Donaldson and rated academy graduate Ben Williamson.
Harry Paton, boosted by his Canada call-up, is a midfield option alongside Blair Spittal, whose contract extension this summer was another lift for County fans.
Charles-Cook, like Paton will be on Gold Cup duty this month, but with Grenada. The former Arsenal youth player will be looking to kick on this season, with Jordan Tillson and academy lad Adam MacKinnon joining the senior ranks last season and pushing for a breakthrough.
Up top, Samuel will be seeking to get his career in the north of Scotland up and running, with experienced strikers Jordan White and Oli Shaw alongside young Matty Wright also having their eyes on goals.