Kevin Thomson has urged his Kelty Hearts players to embrace a mouth-watering occasion as his managerial career begins with a televised showdown against Dundee United.
While ongoing Covid restrictions will rob the Maroon Machine of a full house on Friday night, the excitement is palpable ahead of the Premier Sports Cup curtain-raiser.
As well as being a dugout debut for ex-Rangers, Dundee and Scotland star Thomson, it represents Tam Courts’ maiden match in charge of United and Kelty’s first fixture as a fully-fledged SPFL club.
And while Thomson is actually aware of the gulf Kelty must bridge in order two avoid defeat, his attitude is anything but defeatist.
“I’ve enjoyed trying to put a team together, training the boys and trying to get them fit and ready for the coming campaign,” he told Courier Sport.
“But I love the competitive edge — it’s in my nature — and all of that hard work is geared towards game like Friday night.
“It’s a real shame we can’t have a big sell-out game for the club; for the town; for the fans. However, we are live on the TV and there’s a big Premiership club coming to our place. We want to equip ourselves well.
“I’m under no illusions how tough it will be. Dundee United have top players and they will have aspirations to be in the top-six and chase European football. That’s the level we need to reach and it’ll be difficult.
“But we’ve got a fighter’s chance and we’ll give it a real go.”
‘There might be a few of them looking to prove a point’
The Kelty squad certainly looks well-equipped to rise to the challenge, boasting a swathe of SPFL veterans — including several who have played in the top flight. This is a team built to challenge for the League 2 title and take scalps in the cups.
In Kallum Higginbotham, Joe Cardle and Nathan Austin, there is fire-power that the majority of the Championship would covet. Michael Tidser is a prime midfield conductor and Dougie Hill, Jordon Forster and goalkeeper Darren Jamieson make for a solid spine at the back.
“With the personality in our group and the career many of our players have had, there might be a few of them looking to prove a point,” continued Thomson.
“Now, proving a point against Dundee United is not going to define our season but, internally, we will prepare the boys and place demands on them — with a view to doing well on Friday.
“We want to be competitive; we don’t want to let ourselves down.
“League 2 is the priority — that is our bread and butter — but we want to start the season in the right manner and give the town a team and a performance they can be proud of.
“They’ll see us work hard and try to bring an identity to the team. We’re not there to make up the numbers.”
‘I put pressure on myself to win’
Nor, Thomson contends, can Kelty approach the game with no pressure.
There is a generous weight of expectation on the shoulders of new United head coach Courts going into this contest, particularly given the cynicism which greeted his appointment from some quarters.
Allied with the two divisions separating the sides, there is a temptation to label it a ‘free hit’ for the Fifers.
But there is no such thing as far is Thomson; an individual who claimed five major honours, played in a UEFA Cup final and represented his country eight times. Winning is the sole target, whatever the odds.
“There is pressure on us,” added Thomson. “There was pressure in our friendlies, as far as I’m concerned — because I, as a manager, put pressure on myself to win football matches.
“I don’t know Tam well but I know he’ll be desperate to get off to a good start at United, but so are we. This is a chance to lay down a marker for what we are going to be about this season and we have our own priorities.”