Loch Ness boss Shane Carling is backing his shadow squad to make the trip without him a successful one as they aim to get North Caledonian League win in Orkney on Saturday.
For the second weekend running, Carling won’t be on the sidelines due to illness, while a mixture of work commitments, injuries and illness has diminished the playing numbers available for this tough test.
Impressive pace-setters Loch Ness are competing in their first full North Caley season after last season’s Covid restrictions saw the division split in two.
NORTH CALEDONIAN LEAGUE FIXTURES – 22.1.22
(SPONSORED BY @MacandMac28)
Invergordon v Alness Utd
Inverness Ath v Golspie
Orkney v Loch Ness (12.45)
St.Duthus v Nairn County 'A'
Thurso v Halkirk United
— North Caledonian FA (@NorthCaleyFA) January 15, 2022
The Inverness club, who are playing their games at Fortrose this year, kicked off the campaign on the crest of a wave, having won the Inverness Amateur League’s top division during the summer.
That form has been taken into the NCL, with 11 wins from 13 games so far.
Last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at defending champions Golpsie Sutherland offered a glimmer of hope to a trio of teams who are six points behind Loch Ness.
Golspie are second, just ahead of Invergordon on goal difference, while Orkney – with eight victories from nine outings – are also locked on 27 points, albeit having played one match more than the top three.
Astro surface suits Loch Ness – boss
Despite their sparkling form, Orkney have little margin for error – and Loch Ness boss Carling hopes those tasked with getting the job done for the visitors rise to the challenge.
He said: “I’ll be missing Orkney and we have a lot of boys out. I’m not using the Covid card to get the game called off. We will have 13 or 14 boys available, which would be enough to make a squad.
“Although that squad won’t be us anywhere near full strength compared to that of the last four or five games, it is still going to be a decent side, so I don’t see why they can’t get a result.
“We know it’s a tough place to go, but the team will give it their best shot to come back with a result.
“The game is on astro, which we love playing on. It suits our style of football.
“We will be up for it as much as they will.”
Coming back from Orkney with a point or three, according to Carling, won’t necessarily end their island rivals’ push for glory.
He said: “There will still be a lot of football to be played after Saturday. When we reach the last four of five games of the season is when we’ll really see who has the nerves or who is going to bottle it or who will win in.
“I think it could still go to the wire.”
Second defeat ‘was going to come’
When these teams return to league action on January 29, Orkney travel to Golspie, while Alness United will be Loch Ness’ opponents at Fortrose.
Although he wasn’t at Golspie, Carling was brought up to speed about his side’s display and felt it was missed opportunity.
He added: “From what I believe, we were the better team in the first half and we could have walked in a couple of goals up.
An unfortunate loss at @GolspieSuthFC. They really dug in with ten men and made it difficult for us. We wish them all the best for the remainder of the season. #FORZALOCHNESS pic.twitter.com/UYnK2IHCRO
— Loch Ness Football Club (@LochNessFC) January 15, 2022
“In the second half, we got a penalty, they had a player sent off, we missed the penalty and we maybe faded away.
“We tried chasing the game instead of taking advantage of the 10 men and doing what we’re good at, which is playing football.
— FromTheTerraces (@FTTerracesYT) January 15, 2022
“It’s a defeat and it was always going to come and it was against the champions, so we can’t complain. That’s one win each in that fixture this season.”
Golspie and Invergordon give chase
Golspie will aim to cash in on any Loch Ness slip-up this Saturday as they target three points at improving basement side Inverness Athletic, while Invergordon will also seek to stay in the hunt when they face local rivals Alness.
Thurso, who are second-bottom, will be looking to draw Nairn County reserves closer to them when they face mid-table Halkirk United in a game switched to Morrison Park.
The Vikings defeated Halkirk in the Football Times Cup final on penalties in November, with Halkirk 3-0 winners when they met in August.
On Monday night, a rescheduled fixture between Golspie and St Duthus takes place at King George V Park, with an 8pm kick-off.