TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
Saturday sees the Dream Team enter the William Hill Scottish Cup in the second round having got a bye in the first with a nice 468 mile round trip to Moray and a visit to a familiar location. When the draw for the round produced a trip to Elgin it wasn't exactly treated with joy in Berwick, and I suspect didn't have the populace of Elgin drooling at the thought of us visiting. For Berwick fans it seemed the worst of all draws - one unlikely to be shown on TV (check), not much of a money spinner (double check) and a long way to go for an inevitable defeat (time will tell) - when one remaining glimmer of hope in the season had been for a decent cup run and a bit of money. For Elgin whilst it may not be a big game, they may very well have preferred one of their Highland League neighbours, it did at least give a degree of hope for victory and a chance to progress in the cup.
With The Spartans game having been postponed and us having no game last week thanks to our last dismal cup this will be only our second game of October following on from what by all accounts was an encouraging performance, albeit another defeat, against Barry Ferguson's Kelty Hearts. We've not failed to win in six and pressure is starting to build. To a certain extent this one is a free hit as I don't think anyone is expecting a victory. However, a good result would be a boost as we enter an utterly crucial part of the season with the next six league games featuring three must wins against teams around us (we keep saying must win but it's impossible to see games against Dalbeattie, Vale and Gretna as anything else).
Our opponents on Saturday need no introduction to most Dream Teamers with us having met 55 times since Elgin City were admitted to the League in season 2000/01. We had met once before then back in 1970/71 when we lost 2 - 0 in the Scottish Cup in a December game at Elgin, also in the second round.
The head to head shows Elgin have 23 wins to our 21 with 12 draws. Our recent record is appalling, last season the aggregate score over the four league games was 10 - 4 in Elgin's favour with us having one win (a surprising 4 -2 in the November). In fact since season 2010/11 when we won three of the four league games we have only won six of the 32 league games played. Apart from the aforementioned cup tie we have only met three times in knockout competition, all after Elgin joined the league, once in the Challenge Cup then twice in the League Cup and we won all of those. Older readers may remember the two League Cup games well - both on a Tuesday night and if my memory serves me right we came back from two down in both to win 3 - 2 in 2004 and 4 - 2 in 2005 with late rallies.
Elgin City were formed in 1893 and until the new millenium plied their trade in the Highland League, joining the Scottish Football League for season 2000/2001 due to the expansion of the Premier League. Unlike felllow Highlanders Peterhead, who joined at the same time, Elgin have never left the bottom tier of the League since joining. The closest they have come to promotion was season 2015/16 when they finished second and made the play offs, however, a 5 - 1 aggregate defeat to Clyde consigned them to the lowest division for future seasons. Their average finishing position over their 19 years in the league has been seventh with only six finishes in the top half.
This season has continued that trend with Elgin sitting in sixth position after nine games with nine points from two wins and three draws, scoring and conceding eleven goals. They come into this tie on the back of a good 2 - 0 win away at Airdrieonians in the Tunnocks thanks to two very late goals including a penalty from Shane Sutherland who is currently top scorer in League Two with seven goals. Sutherland has bounced between Elgin and Peterhead in the last ten years and is now in his third spell at Borough Briggs (not counting an initial loan spell from Inverness CT, where he had three seasons in the Premier League making 77 appearances and scoring three goals). Prior to this season he had made 168 appearances for Elgin scoring 72 goals.
They are currently managed by Gavin Price who has been in post since October 2017 initially as caretaker following the departure of Jim Weir who he had been assistant to. Aside from Weir Elgin have also been managed by ex-Scotland internationals Brian Irvine and David Robertson.
In many ways Elgin are in a similar position to Berwick in terms of geographical isolation and being almost the midpoint between two major population centres (Aberdeen and Inverness in their case) which as we know all too well can be a problem for a football team in terms of establishing it's identity and attracting players. In recent years Elgin have gone down the route of trying to recruit locally and to build a team based around the local area. Attendances at Borough Briggs tend to hover around the 600 mark and in reality they have one of the better home supports of the lower leagues.
The town itself has been a Royal Burgh since around 1130 and for those of a historical, or Shakespearian, bent MacBeth defeated Duncan at Bothnagowan which is nearby.
We go into the game after last weekend's team building exercise which rather than having a hipster called Miles asking them to discover their inner animal whilst crafting a raft out of toilet roll to cross an imaginary river before being blindfolded and asked to place their trust in Daphne from accounts as she leads them across a tightrope seems to have involved boxing.
It appears that we have a full squad to select from with no injury news emanating from Shielfield.