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Highland shift focus as promotion becomes long shot for head coach Davie Carson

Highland head coach Davie Carson.
Highland head coach Davie Carson.

Highland head coach Davie Carson will look towards next season after all but ruling out a promotion push in National League 1.

The Inverness side head to Melrose this weekend, seven days after a damaging 32-25 loss at Watsonian left them a dozen points behind leaders Heriot’s Blues, but in fifth position overall.

One glance at the table shows Gala, handily placed in third spot, are only five points from the top and with two games in hand.

Melrose, who were 43-7 victors at Cartha Queen’s Park on Saturday, are one place and one point behind Highland, having played one match less.

Highland head coach Davie Carson.

With four rivals in front of them now, Carson is already looking to field players with a view to blending them into first-team reckoning next term.

Proud club aiming to finish on a high

So, while winning at Melrose is their target, the focus of not realistically chasing a title or promotion, changes the outlook somewhat.

Carson said: “We spoke on Tuesday night about it and we feel promotion is probably away from us now.

“But we are a proud club with proud players and we want to finish as high up the table as we can because we’re still punching well about our weight, given the resources we’ve got compared to other clubs.

“The boys have been fantastic this year. We won’t just say ‘we can’t go up, we can’t go down’ as we want to keep fighting and getting wins and results.

“Promotion is probably beyond us. Too many teams above us would need to slip up. You never know, but it’s not looking likely.

“We will start to introduce some new things from now on. That means it won’t be a rush in pre-season.

“It’s not a case of ‘we need to win the next game to stay in the race’. Of course, we want to win, but we will also give starts to maybe some of the guys who haven’t had a much game time and expose them to the level they are going to be at next year. We will take advantage of where we are to move the club forward.”

Melrose will target revenge win

Melrose were beaten 26-20 when they visited Canal Park in October and Carson expects on their Greenyards turf, their hosts will be extra keen to get a victory.

He said: “It’s another huge game and they all will be until the end of the season.

“It’s a big challenge to try and win down there. Melrose are a really good side and it was a really close game in Inverness and we beat them. They’ll be looking for revenge.”

Fine margins in Edinburgh loss

Looking back at the loss against second-bottom Watsonian, who closed in on Dundee and Cartha Queen’s Park, Carson felt on another day Highland could well have headed north from Edinburgh with a win.

He added: “It was another close game, as they all have been in this division. It was a really good game of rugby.

“We conceded a couple of soft tries, but came back really strongly in the last 10-15 minutes, which was pleasing, and got within striking distance of them.

“Some inconsistencies from the officials didn’t help. They should have had players in the bin for all the penalties they gave away, but we all make mistakes. You need to take it on the chin and move on.

“I said before we went on the park, they were second-bottom and in the relegation drop zone, so they’d be fighting for their lives.

“They are playing well and they just need to start winning games to stay up. They must have put in four one-on-one try-saving tackles in the last 10-15 minutes, so you need to hand it to them.

“We got a point from it, it should have been more, but we’ll move on.”

Callum Carson will be missing for a couple of weeks due to a knee ligament injury, while Seamus Ross is out due to shoulder damage.

Experienced Rory Cross should slot in for Ross against Melrose, with Grant Jamieson a contender to replace Callum Carson.

After facing Melrose, and due to the Six Nations starting, Highland’s next game will be on February 12 away to current second-placed side, Biggar.

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