‘CLOSE but no cigar’ can at times be a condescending axiom in the context of common sporting parlance but it gives a succinct narrative to Wanderers’ latest BT National League Division Two defeat, by just two points, to the promotion chasing Cartha Queens Park at Fort Matilda last Saturday.

Once the euphoria of the locals’ best performance of the season had given way to the sobering reality that another home defeat had actually been recorded, the penny would have dropped down Octavia Terrace way that the Greenock men have the capability to compete with some of the best the division has to offer but only if they bring their best game to the fray on a weekly basis.

Tomorrow’s fixture against old rivals Ardrossan at Memorial Field in the first west coast derby of the season is a great opportunity for Wanderers to build on last week’s much-improved performance and show some self belief and revitalised spirit that could kick-start their season with a victory.

Ardrossan are sitting one place above Wanderers in ninth position in the table and have won two of their nine league matches to date but they suffered a heavy reverse last weekend when they were trounced 76-24 by Aberdeenshire at Woodside.

They have come unstuck with three heavy defeats in consecutive weeks and will be keen to put the brakes on their poor run of form before they too tumble into the relegation zone.

In the corresponding game last season Wanderers opened well but capitulated somewhat in the second half to lose by the sizeable margin of 30-8, and the recent history of the fixture makes depressing reading for the Greenock men as they have not won at Memorial Field since a last-minute try by Kiwi import Andy Tippet snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on 27 January 2001.

That stark losing statistic does not bode well for tomorrow’s visit but with Wanderers’ rejuvenated form and Ardrossan’s recent poor run of results there is hope and no little expectation that if the ‘west enders’ can harness the positives from some of their better displays this season then their long losing run may be about to come to an end.

Last weekend the Greenock front five took the plaudits for a spunky performance that did much to encourage the home support and if they can replicate that tomorrow then an old fashioned derby battle will ensue with both sides going at it ‘hammer and tongs’.

Conversely if the mercurial Wanderers bring what may be described as their alternative game to the Ayrshire coast then the fixture will be done and dusted in the hosts’ favour by the time the half-time oranges are being sliced in preparation for the interval refreshments.

Trying to predict Wanderers’ form on a week-to-week basis these days is an intriguing conundrum and it must be equally confusing and galling for head coach Graham Knox who has performed admirably in the most trying of circumstances.

The last fortnight has yielded two much-needed losing bonus points and in the context of the relegation battle these counters could be crucial come the end of the season.

Skipper Murray MacDonald will be desperate to record a victory in his first derby match as captain and although total focus will be applied to that objective the truth is that another losing bonus point would be far from disaster.

Indeed four of Wanderers’ nine-point tally for the campaign have come from securing the losing bonus point and as long as they can stay ahead of Livingston and Haddington, by any means possible, then they will ensure safety this term.

The crux of the season will undoubtedly be the forthcoming home games against their fellow strugglers but if Wanderers can pick up additional points along the way then they will ease any relegation worries and, unlikely though it may seem, perhaps even sneak into a mid-table position.

Clearly the priority though for Greenock is to bring their current run of defeats to an end and a large travelling entourage will make their way to Memorial Field for the 2pm kick-off to offer their encouragement and vocal support to a side that is capable of winning the game assuming they apply themselves fully to the challenge ahead.

The big team news for Wanderers is that dual-registered Glasgow Hawks star Brendan McGroarty, will return to Wanderers’ colours for the day and his inclusion could well be the catalyst that makes all the difference tomorrow.

A win for Wanderers would mean jumping Ardrossan into ninth place and dragging the ‘Accies’ into the relegation dog-fight but the locals must focus on their own plight and their main concern is securing second division rugby next season and a victory tomorrow would go a long way to ensuring that objective is achieved.

Self-belief is the key and if the Greenock men travel with confidence and aspiration then that much sought-after second win of the season will result.

Wanderers are sponsored by Texas Instruments.