MACRON Scottish Junior Cup holders Auchinleck Talbot head into this week’s fourth-round clash with Blantyre Vics having tasted defeat just once in all competitions in an impressive run stretching back to the opening day of the 2018/19 Junior season.

The Ayrshire crack team, whose only reverse was a 1-0 loss against Glenafton, are strongly fancied to retain the Junior game’s No 1 trophy prize, not least because of their phenomenal playing strength. This was clearly evident in their latest triumph, last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Highland League big guns Fraserburgh, which was achieved without injured defensive cornerstone Ross Harvey who last night was devastated at hearing he might be a long-term absentee.

“I twisted my knee when we beat Lesmahagow 9-1 in the last round of the Scottish Junior Cup and it’s not responded to treatment though I have to say I’m my own worst enemy in wanting to get back playing as soon as possible.

“Stevie Walker, the Rangers physio and formerly a central defender with Shettleston, advised me to rest but I badgered him to pass me fit and went out and trained alongside my team-mates at the start of this week to prove my point.

“Unfortunately the knee didn’t feel right and was painful at times so now Stevie wants me to get an investigatory MRI scan and has warned me that surgery is looking a distinct possibility.

“I’m a definite non-starter for the Blantyre game which is frustrating as Castle Park is on my doorstep but more worryingly is the thought of Stevie’s timetable of events panning out as he says because it would mean I’m also going to struggle to be ready for our big Scottish tie with Ayr United, which is not until mid-January.

“And there’s no chance of me making an appearance before I’m fit and ready because Tucker [Tommy Sloan] won’t consider me for his team plans unless I’m back training with the other guys.”

Harvey’s bombshell did not come as a total surprise to his six times Scottish Cup winning manager who is looking forward to facing former Talbot duo John Gibson and his No 2 Paul McAnenay who previously played under Tucker when he first assumed the Beechwood Park reins

Sloan said: "Big Paul was a good player for me and a wholehearted type who did not like losing so I would imagine Blantyre’s players will be competitive to say the least.

“The injury to Ross gives us a headache because his replacement in the Fraserburgh game, Craig McCracken, turned his ankle early in the game and was able to get through the 90 minutes but he has not trained this week and is a major doubt.

“If he fails to recover then we will be short at the back. However, we have other options and will travel through in good spirits and not lacking in confidence.

“The only other non-starter is Mark Shankland who is awaiting word of when the cast on his broken wrist can come off and allow him to get in a few training sessions and play himself into contention for a jersey.

“Shankers and Ross being out at the same time is not ideal but now is the time for other players to step up to the plate.”

“There’s no such thing as a weakened Auchinleck Talbot team in a Scottish Junior Cup tie," said Vics boss Gibson, who has ruled out experienced pair Andy Sinclair and Con Boyle while rating John Henderson (broken toes) as 50/50 at best for going up against the Ayrshire kingpins,

“The competition brings out the best in their players and they have shown that time and time again down through the years and what Tucker has achieved is nothing short of remarkable.

“I’ve told my players they should always want to play against the best and that’s what they will be facing on Saturday so I just want us to go out and show our own qualities rather than trying to shut up shop.

“It’s a fantastic draw for a club like ours and for myself because I came across so many good people in my stint at Auchinleck and I’m looking forward to seeing a few familiar faces, even if I’m hoping they won’t have a lot to smile about.”