Clachnacuddin reserves boss Paul Maclennan in encouraged by the way his young charges are showing a fearless streak this season.
The young Merkinch side, which exists in the North Caledonian League mainly to provide a pathway to the first-team, are seventh in the table after seven fixtures.
Their nine-point tally was aided by being awarded a win against Loch Ness after their opponents were punished for fielding an ineligible player on August 19.
However, last weekend’s 3-2 defeat against new leaders Fort William offered a glimpse of Clach’s capabilities. They led 2-0 thanks to an Aidan Mackinnon goal and a Ryan Walker penalty.
Fort fought back and goals from Juan Cardona, Andrew Mclean and Davie Neil earned them a crucial victory.
It was a great effort, though, from a Clach side who had been out of action for four weeks due to games being called off.
This Saturday, Clach travel to Invergordon, who are level on points with front-runners Fort William at the summit with two games in hand.
Gary Campbell’s team go into this game fresh from retaining the Football Times Cup with a 3-2 win against Inverness Athletic.
Last month, Clach put in a strong show against Invergordon in the Football Times Cup, with Blair Morrison goals either side of half-time leading to a 2-0 defeat.
Progress at Clach in second season
A 1-0 win in Orkney and draws against Fort William and Inverness Athletic away gives Maclennan plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of this group.
He said: “I think we should have won both Fort William games. We dropped four points, yet had we won those games, we’d be sitting fifth in the table.
“So, yes, we are a development team, but the boys are disappointed not to have won these games against the team now top of the league.
“Last year was our first season in the league and we were just finding our feet as we got used to the North Caledonian League.
“However, we finished over the last six games as the joint-best form record – it ended at the wrong time for us.
“We worked a lot over the summer and the main objective was to become harder to beat. We still set out to play good, attractive, attacking football, but we wanted to become harder to beat.”
Having a go at teams is Lilies’ goal
Maclennan explained his Clach players will not have any fear factor about taking on Invergordon, who clearly have the title in sight this season.
He said: “The two goals we conceded against Invergordon in the cup last month came from set-pieces. Those goals changed the game, so we’re still going against these top teams.
“Even when we lost 5-0 against Loch Ness right at the start of the season, it was an end-to-end entertaining match.
“We want to have a go at all teams and for the boys to be confident in their own abilities.
“We tend to play our best football when we have something to prove, so if these boys want to go on and play Highland League football, they need to be ready to take on a team like Invergordon.
“We’re not saying ‘we have to win these games’, but we want to be competitive.”
Gethins keeps tabs on reserves’ side
At first-team level, former Nairn County, Peterhead and Ross County striker Conor Gethins has just replaced Jordan MacDonald as the Lilywhites’ manager.
Maclennan revealed Gethins is already taking an interest in the reserves, with a view to bringing more players through to senior level.
He added: “Jordan and I had a good relationship and it’s a fresh start with Conor coming in.
“We’ve already spoken about our team and asked my opinion on my players and he’s taken a look at training. If these boys are performing well for me, he’ll certainly give them a chance and that’s all we ask.
“In my opinion, Clach has the best youth system up here – it would be pointless to have that youth system if the young players had nowhere to go.
“The reserves now bridges the gap between youth, under-18s and into first-team.”
— Clach Reserves (@ClachReserves) October 28, 2023
Alness test for leaders Fort William
League leaders Fort William will treat their trip to Alness United with caution on Saturday – given their hosts crushed St Duthus 5-1 then held champions Loch Ness 3-3 last week.
It required a late Allan MacPhee goal to secure that point for Loch Ness, who are home to second-bottom Bonar Bridge, while Halkirk United will cash in on any slip-up by Fort William or Invergordon if they win at Golspie Sutherland.
Inverness Athletic’s match at North Kessock against Thurso has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch as is St Duthus v Orkney in Tain.
— Inverness Athletic Football Club (@InvernessAthFC) November 3, 2023