Rothes manager Ross Jack feels his side are underdogs heading into today’s Highland League Cup semi-final against Formartine United at North Lodge Park.
The Speysiders defeated United 2-0 on March 7 in their final competitive match before the 2019-20 season was brought to a premature end by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jack’s side finished an impressive campaign in third position, while United ended the season in sixth spot.
But the Rothes boss believes his players have their work cut out to prevent Formartine reaching a fourth successive Highland League Cup final.
He said: “Our pre-season preparations have been horrendous as we have been missing players through injuries and illness.
“Our squad has been absolutely decimated but the boys who are available are really up for the game. Paul MacLeod, Ryan McRitchie, Aidan Wilson, Steven Anderson and Robbie Donaldson are all out, while Gregg Main is suspended.
“But it is a fantastic opportunity for the players who can play to embrace and enjoy. The boys did so well last season and the boys who are available have to take the game to Formartine and express themselves.
“We have to work as hard as we possibly can to give ourselves every opportunity to get to the final. It is going to be a tough ask as we have tons of respect for Formartine but we don’t fear them.”
While Jack is pleased to have a competitive football to look forward to this weekend, he remains unsure if it will be possible for the Highland League season to restart next month as planned.
He said: “My primary care is for the health and wellbeing of my players, supporters and everyone connected with our club and the other Highland League clubs.
“We can only get back playing if it can be proved it can be done safely without taking risks as this virus is going to be here for a while yet.”
Formartine striker Garry Wood is pleased the Highland League have found an innovative solution to allow fans to watch the League Cup semis – although he does not think they should’ve had to resort to livestreaming the matches.
Wood has played in the last three League Cup finals with the Pitmedden outfit, scoring the winner in a 2-1 showpiece victory over Fraserburgh at Mackessack Park in 2018, and said: “I imagine there’ll be a few people tuning in, even if it’s just to give me some abuse after it, my mates and that.
“It’s good they’ve managed to get it, so the fans and our families and friends can watch it. It’s innovative and they’ve got the live commentary as well.
“It seems to be working in the lower leagues just now with the Betfred Cup, so I don’t see why it can’t work in the Highland League. I personally still don’t see why we can’t get fans into the ground to be honest.
“You see a lot of industries allowing people indoors, which we’ve been told is one of the main things that shouldn’t be happening (because of coronavirus). Even if you cap it at 300 fans, say, I don’t see there being much issue there.”
Wood, 33, admits, despite being determined to finally draw a line under the 2019/20 campaign with silverware after a disappointing league season, Formartine are entering the unknown today after such a long competitive lay-off.
He said: “It’s been different with all the restrictions in place. It’s also been a longer one with us having so long off.
“There’s not much changed in personnel. We’ve taken maybe one or two in. On the whole it’s pretty much the same guys from last year and we just need to make sure we hit the ground running.
“You’ve only got one game to do that, so we’ll see how it goes on Saturday, basically.It’s a semi-final, and if you’re not up for that you’re not going to be up for any game.
“We’re no illusions. Rothes are a good team and were one of the form teams last year. They were our last game before the season got curtailed and there wasn’t much between the teams there. I can’t see it being much different on Saturday.
“We just need to make sure we perform.”