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Seven call-offs shatter pre-season plans at Rothes – but boss Ross Jack will be ready for kick-off

Rothes manager Ross Jack is hopeful of a fixture this weekend after a series of seven summer call-offs due to Covid.
Rothes manager Ross Jack is hopeful of a fixture this weekend after a series of seven summer call-offs due to Covid.

Rothes boss Ross Jack remains frustrated by the complete wipeout of pre-season matches for his Highland League side just a few weeks ahead of the big kick off.

The Speysiders made history last winter by winning the Highland League Cup in a thrilling final against Buckie Thistle and many believe they have the potential to push on and challenge for the title in what is sure to be a fierce multi-club tussle at the top.

Off the pitch, the club continue to strength, with Greg Morrison, Wayne Mackintosh, Michael Finnis and Shane Harkness joining last week.

(Left to right) Rothes manager Ross Jack, Ross Gunn, Michael Finnis, Greg Morrison, Shane Harkness, Sean Linden, Jack Brown and assistant manager Jim Walker.

However, a clean sweep of seven call-offs due to Covid spikes in the region have put paid to Rothes getting some vital match sharpness in their legs.

Covid spread wipes out games for Rothes

Although he’s hopeful to have a match lined up this weekend, Jack said: “It has been really frustrating because we cannot get any games due to Covid outbreaks in the north.

“We have had seven friendlies cancelled so far. We have been training very well and have been back for six weeks. They are looking fit.

“We had a programme in place, tailored towards the start of the season, but we also had to cancel everything Rothes-related for 10 days due to some boys being at the Scotland game.

“The Covid cases seems to have spread across the Highlands and down the east. People, like ourselves, are struggling. We will hopefully have something this weekend, fingers crossed.”

With the squad raring to go, the manager is satisfied by the quality within the ranks.

He added: “I need to thank the chairman and the committee for the commitment they have shown to take players in. They have backed myself and (assistant manager) Jim Walker for the players we have recommended.

“We’ve a good blend now of youth and experience and we just cannot wait for the campaign to begin.

“We needed certain bodies in for certain areas and we have got good competition. We made sure we got the right type in and boys that fit in well to the changing room.

“They have good ability and they are excellent players, so that all helps. We have a nice combination. It’s a decent-sized squad, but not a huge squad.

“I didn’t want that because that can sometimes lead to unrest with people not getting games. It’s competitive and everyone knows they need to fight for their places.”

Several clubs will be in the title chase – Ross Jack

Rothes start their league campaign on July 24 at home to Fort William before going to champions Brora Rangers one week later.

In the last almost-completed season of 2019/20, the club finished fourth, just two points behind third-placed Fraserburgh.

Jack believes Rothes can be one of several sides genuinely looking to challenge for the title.

He explained: “We are not the only team who has invested well in players. There will be a few confident that they can be up there and we are no different. We just need to ensure we compete from the off. If we can emulate what we achieved last year, I’d be delighted.

Highland League Cup winner, Rothes manager Ross Jack.

“We had the excellent League Cup campaign and the boys did extremely well to win that. We didn’t really have the chance to build upon that with just a few games.

“Like everyone else, we just want to get over this spell of this new wave of Covid and we’ll be ready to start on July 24. Hopefully everything will be safe and sound by then and there will be no risk.”

Play-off defeat will only drive Brora on

In May, Brora were beaten to the chance of reaching the play-off for League Two when they lost 6-1 on aggregate to Kelty Hearts, the Lowland League winners.

Rather than the champions suffering a hangover, Jack feels it will reinvigorate Steven Mackay’s title-winners.

He said: “Brora were caught short in the play-offs and I’d expect they will be out to prove they are good enough to be at the top and maybe go the next step, next time. They’ll be prepared and ready, as will a number of clubs for the season ahead.”

At the other end of the table, the bottom side in the Highland League could face a play-off against a champion from the North Caledonian League, North Region Superleague or Midlands League.

Opening up that chance to tier six clubs is a wise move, according to the Rothes manager.

He added: “A bit of competition like that is healthy. I think it will be great.

“The younger boys that have maybe not made it at Ross County, Caley Thistle or Elgin, for example, could get the chance to prove themselves and get back up the leagues to a high level of football that way.

“It’s a great opportunity for teams and players and it should strengthen the Highland League as well, which bodes well for Scottish football.”

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