At the start of a massive week for the club, Paul Hartley says everyone is buzzing and excited for the challenge ahead as Cove bid to reach the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup for the first time in our history.
No-one at Balmoral Stadium is blind to the task facing them this weekend; on-form Kilmarnock, flying high in the top four of the Premiership, are heavy odds-on favourites to progress, so the approach has to be a realistic one, but that does not stop the manager from dreaming:
“It’s going to be a good week! I’ve always loved the Scottish Cup, was lucky enough to win it in successive years with Hearts and Celtic, and it would be brilliant if we can pull off what would be a remarkable result for the club.
“I see it as a big test, a challenge for me, my staff and the players, and I don’t think we’re really under too much pressure. We put that on ourselves, of course we do, but no-one will be expecting us to win; Kilmarnock are overwhelming favourites for the tie.”
Paul will be at Rugby Park on Wednesday night to run the rule over the Ayrshire side when they take on Livingston, as he believes it is crucial he sees them in the flesh:
“I know all about them, we’ve done the video analysis, but I always like to see a team live, I get a better feel for it and what they’re trying to do. The reports, the video work, they’re important, but if you get the opportunity to see the opposition with your own eyes, you’ve got to take it.
“That gives me more to pass on to my players and to work out how we’re best approaching the match.
“It might be a different side on Saturday, they’ve got so many options, and they’ve signed well in the window with the likes of Greg Stewart, a player I know well, and Kevin van Veen. Whoever they put out against us, we will be up against quality.”
The manager knows his players are all fired-up for this one, and he believes it is a challenge they should be relishing:
“I don’t imagine we’ll see so many players on the treatment table this week,” he smiles, “and that’s good, exactly what I would expect. Of course, they all want to play in this one. We’ll be two down (Matty Shiels and Ola Lawal are cup-tied), so we are a wee bit limited in terms of what we can pick. It’s up to me to choose the right team, the one I believe gives us the best chance of competing.”
“This is a whole different experience, a good team, a big stadium, and the boys are all keen to test themselves. We need to be positive, put on a good performance. We will have to defend well as a team and when we get on the ball, we have to keep it long enough to allow ourselves to create opportunities, to offer a threat.
“This is the best team we’ll have faced this season, so we will have to start strongly, better than we have been doing of late. We will need tempo; everyone will have to bring their ‘A’ game.”
Paul admits the odds are stacked against us, but he says he still believes in the romance of the Cup:
“It is a tough away fixture against a very good side, Derek has done a brilliant job there, but we are going there to try to get a result, that’s the mindset we’ve got to have, and if we can stay in the game, if Kilmarnock dip and we perform as we can, you never know what might happen.”
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