GREENOCK Wanderers make the trip to the quaintly named Duffus Park in Cupar in the Kingdom of Fife tomorrow where they face Scottish Premier League Third Division Championship favourites Howe of Fife in what is undoubtedly the locals' most difficult test of the season.
The hosts are currently occupying second spot in the league but only because of recent postponements and the fact that top side Kirkcaldy have played four games more.
The Fifers are only three points behind the table-toppers and with four games in hand could potentially realise 20 points which would put them an amazing 17 points clear.
Howe of Fife are unbeaten at home this season and with 12 victories and only two losses from their 14 fixtures they are very much the form team and a side that looks likely to go on and clinch the title.
They suffered two narrow defeats during the early part of the season both on the road at Cartha Queens Park and at Dumfries, but have not played a league game since the 3 December when they avenged the Dumfries defeat by narrowly edging out the Saints 20-16 at Duffus Park.
The earlier match between the sides at Fort Matilda in October resulted in a tight 8-3 victory for the visitors but it was an evenly matched contest and ended with Wanderers camped close to the Howe of Fife line and launching wave after wave of attack in an effort to snatch victory.
The Fifers held on to claim the points but the performance that day will give Wanderers confidence that they are capable of mixing it with the top teams in the league and Howe in particular.
President Graeme Alexander said: "The Howe are having a great season but we will emphasise to our players that we were unlucky not to get the victory at Fort Matilda and that we should have no fears about playing teams at the top end of the table.
"We are the only side to have beaten current leaders Kirkcaldy on their home turf this term and that was a result that kick-started our season. We have selected a strong side and we are going to head through to Cupar tomorrow and tell our players to enjoy the experience and show the top teams in the league that we are a formidable side and more than capable of testing them whether the game is at Fort Matilda or in their own back yard." Wanderers are in a comfortable mid-table position but have ambition to enhance their league standing over the next couple of months as the league campaign draws to a close. They have six games left to achieve that with an equal split of fixtures home and away.
The recent weather disruption has meant that the injury list has all but cleared but youngster Martin Lavelle looks likely to miss out until the end of the season with nerve damage in his shoulder. Despite Lavelle's injury Wanderers have nonetheless selected a strong front row with Dougie Smith, Yan Young and Dave Paton occupying the front row berths. Skipper Matt Gray and Ali Abernethy will lock the scrum and John Stewart, Graham Mooney and Callum Robb will once more be tasked with doing the unglamorous chores of making the first up tackles and getting to the breakdown early in order to secure ball at the contact zone.
Wanderers back line has been finely tweaked with strong running Jason Smith getting the nod on the wing. His pace, power and incisive angles of running will be vital if the locals put width on the ball and with the Duffus Park pitch being one of the wider playing surfaces in the league then that is a tactic that half-backs' Andy McDougall and Kenny Diffenthal might well employ.
Vice-captain Brendan McGroarty and Kieren Smith will patrol the midfield channels and Sean Connolly and Leigh Tyley complete what is a very potent Wanderers back line, brimming with attacking options.
The hosts are a large, strong, running side and Wanderers must meet the physical challenge head on if they are to take anything from this match. The locals have a reputation for strong, dour and dogged defence and they must be at their best in that department tomorrow or risk being swamped as they were in the match at Braidholm against GHA.
Captain Matt Gray will as always lead from the front and infuse his side with confidence, determination and desire to take the game to Howe of Fife and challenge them in every facet of the game. Some of Wanderers best performances this season have come on the road and in particular against top teams Kirkcaldy and Dumfries.
The locals really have nothing to lose tomorrow as the expectation around the division is that Howe will win comfortably and probably secure the win bonus point to boot. In reality though the Fifers may well get a shock. Gray and his side have a battling mentality and with the normal loyal travelling support willing them on an upset may well be on the cards.
- Howe of Fife v Wanderers at Duffus Park, Cupar, Fife. Kick-off 3pm. Team: Leigh Tyley, Sean Connolly, Kieren Smith, Brendan McGroarty, Jason Smith, Kenny Diffenthal, Andy McDougall, Dougie Smith, Yan Young, Dave Paton, Matt Gray (captain), Ali Abernethy, John Stewart, Graham Mooney and Callum Robb. Replacements: Stewart Alexander, Chris Randall, Alan Knox and David Watson.
- Wanderers are sponsored by Texas Instruments.