ONE of Darren Henderson’s biggest regrets at the end of the season may be that striker Marc McKenzie was not around for longer to help Hurlford United in their quest for silverware.

The 33-year-old former Cowdenbeath and East Stirling front man – nicknamed Squib – only joined from Kilwinning Rangers in mid-December and then could make few starts due to being cup-tied in both the Macron Scottish Junior Cup and the Ardagh Group West of Scotland Cup.

With McKenzie’s sharpness and fitness levels deteriorating due to a lack of action, Hurlford boss Henderson brokered a short-term loan deal for the striker to join Championship outfit Rossvale at the start of last month to get regular games.

The move appears to have paid dividends with McKenzie being on fire since returning to his parent club, finding the net along with Ross Robertson, Jamie Hilton and Lewis Morrison in the 4-0 victory over Petershill this week, for his fourth goal in four Ford outings.

He is set to have a key role today when the league leaders make the short hop to face nearest challengers Auchinleck Talbot in what is being regarded as a Premiership title-decider by both sets of supporters.

“I don’t doubt for a minute that we did the right thing in loaning Squib out as he’s come back fired up to prove a point and both he and young Jamie Hilton, who has returned from Ayr United, have instilled a new freshness to the team,” Henderson said.

“More than a few fans have commented that we’d still be in the Junior Cup if the two of them had been available for selection against Largs Thistle but instead of crying over spilt milk, I’m just grateful for having them here and now ahead of tomorrow’s massive head to head with Auchinleck.

“The 90 minutes could prove memorable and I think it’s disrespectful to the other teams both Talbot and ourselves have yet to play to state the title race is over if they come out on top so I’ll temper my prediction a little and just say they will take some beating if we don’t take something from the game.

“To put the size of the challenge facing my players into context, Talbot ran out winners in the Scottish Cup at home to Ayr United who could well be an SPL club next season.

“Our record is not the best down there but that’s maybe an unfair tag as I cannot imagine any team able to claim they regularly do well against Talbot in front of their own supporters.

“It can be a proverbial Lion’s Den but the likes of Squib and younger guys Lewis Morrison and Sam Liddington, have no fear and neither should any Hurlford player given we have put together a five-game winning run and kept a clean sheet on four of those occasions .

“Yes we only just managed a 1-0 victory over Renfrew last Saturday. However, we were more like ourselves against Petershill and I’m of the mind we can give Talbot a game of it.”

Henderson refused to be drawn on whether versatile ex-St Mirren star David Barron, who has a hamstring injury, would play.

“He’s a big miss in a game of this importance not least because he’s our team captain but we have to weigh up whether to run the risk of losing him for our final three league games if he starts against Talbot,” Henderson said.

Among the other top-flight contests, doomed bottom-markers Cambuslang Rangers host the visit of basement rivals Kilbirnie Ladeside, whose top- flight survival would be guaranteed if they avoid defeat against a side who have lost 15 league games on the spin.

Pollok await the visit of Clydebank, whom they beat 2-1 last weekend, and they must pick up all three points if they hope to fend off the challenge for third from Glenafton, who face Largs Thistle. Reigning champions Beith, currently in sixth place, face a difficult test away to in-form Irvine Meadow.