Archie Macphee reckons the overall quality of League Two will prevent red-hot favourites Kelty Hearts from making it a one-horse race for the title.
The Elgin City full-back, who signed a permanent one-year deal at Borough Briggs in May, is a key figure and had another shining performance in Tuesday’s 3-1 home defeat to Kelty in the Premier Sports Cup.
That result, which came courtesy of two second half Nathan Austin goals for the Maroons after Elgin had led early on, leaves City without a point in Group B.
They finish their section on Saturday away to League One side East Fife, who have also yet to get a point on the board.
Dundee United have already progressed as the group winners, while Arbroath, of the Championship, face Kelty this weekend as they aim to reach the nine points they hope will take them through to the knockouts as one of the four best runners-up.
Lowland League champions Kelty, with players such as Austin, Kallum Higginbotham, Joe Cardle and Michael Tidser, are seen by the bookies and pundits as unstoppable after roaring to their title and seeing off Brora Rangers and Brechin City in the play-offs.
With back-to-back third-place finishes, Elgin are determined to finally get over the hurdle and win promotion to League One.
Kelty will be tested by quality opponents – Macphee
Macphee feels that, despite Kelty’s clear qualities, they’ll have to earn any title they set out to win, and he expects his own club to be back in the mix.
He explained: “Kelty are the big favourites. Just look at the strength and depth of their squad. They have quality players and have obviously spent a lot of money.
“However, there’s no reason why we can’t compete. We’ve got a great team as well and we have the experience of League Two.
“If we can get off to a strong start, we can see where it takes us and hopefully we will be competing at the top.
“I don’t think it will be an easy ride for Kelty. There are a number of good teams in this league and not much between any side.
“That’s why it’s important that we start well, concentrate in ourselves and be as fit as we can be going into the new season.”
Defender Creag Miller put Elgin in front after just five minutes on Tuesday, but the fired-up Fifers had the bit between their teeth in the second half.
They drew level thanks to a fine goal from impressive midfielder Cameron Russell before ex-Inverness forward Austin stole the headlines with his deadly double.
City manager Gavin Price pointed to the difference in fitness as the tie wore on, with Covid impacting on the Moray squad earlier this month and not helping their quest for points.
Chances created show Elgin are on right track
Macphee, 28, reckons there were positives to take from their performance against Kelty.
He said: “We were up against it. They are a really good side, full of good players.
“In the first half, we done well. We were 1-0 up, we kept our shape and used the ball well.
“In the second half, they put us under a bit of pressure. I did feel though, even though they did put us under pressure, we created the better chances. I also felt we should have had a clear penalty. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t.
“After the impact of Covid, a lot of the boys have not had a proper pre-season.”
Strong display at East Fife can set Elgin up for league opener
The focus at Elgin throughout this month has been on getting off to a winning start against Stranraer when the league kicks off on July 31.
Saturday’s cup tie at East Fife, therefore, is the final preparation step for that.
Macphee added: “We need to dust ourselves down and go again on Saturday.
“The main objective is we’re ready for July 31. From now until then, we need to get up to speed.
“We need to give a good account of ourselves down there. It’s a chance for us to get another good game under our belts ahead of the league starting.
“We need to get off to a good start this season. We’ve a good enough squad to compete again at the top end of the table. We just need to take confidence from last season and learn from that experience. Hopefully we can take that step further.”