Cove Rangers manager John Sheran isn’t surprised to see four Highland League teams in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.
Sheran’s Cove were one of four who made it through to the last 32 of the competition after an impressive 3-2 away win at League 1 Airdrie.
Brora Rangers, Formartine United and Fraserburgh also progressed, with the Broch landing a money-spinning home tie against Rangers in Monday’s draw.
It is the first time that four Highland League clubs have reached the fourth round since the competition was expanded in 2007. Before then Highland League clubs took part in the Scottish Qualifying Cup to earn one of four places on offer to compete in the national competition.
With Cove facing a trip to Formartine United, a repeat of the Aberdeenshire Cup final this month which United won 1-0, there is guaranteed to be at least one Highland League team in the last 16.
Sheran believes the gap is closing between the part-time SPFL teams and the Highland League teams and said: “With the introduction of some Highland League clubs now taking part in the IRN-BRU Cup and the League Cup, the players have become more accustomed to facing SPFL teams, there’s no question that’s made a difference.
“Equally, I think the gap has also closed a bit because we have more players with SPFL experience playing for Highland League teams, coming from clubs such as Aberdeen, Caley Thistle, Ross County, as well as Peterhead and Elgin City.”
Sheran added: “I don’t think there’s the same aura surrounding SPFL clubs as there once was.
“For instance, we went to Airdrie on Saturday and Brora Rangers went to Stranraer, both looking to win.
“Formartine definitely thought they would win at home to Forfar, while I also expected Fraserburgh to win their game at Spartans.
“Buckie Thistle had the toughest of draws, at home to Championship side Brechin City, but they were unlucky to go out 3-2.”