THOSE curious about whether next season’s sure to be more competitive  16 team Premier League may prove a leap too far for the best Conference League clubs might consider there are indications to be gleaned from the opening  2021/22 South Challenge Cup ties.

That’s after the playing of the first round last weekend had set  five Conference sides in direct opposition to their so called superiors and it would be right on the money to say not a lot went right for the underdogs.

Title contending pair Neilston and St Rochs lost out narrowly to Beith and Largs Thistle respectively and yet another Division C outfit Ardrossan Winton Rovers found themselves hopelessly outclassed to the tune of 7-0 against strong going Kilwinning Rangers.

Craigmark, sixth top of the Division A, suffered an odd goal defeat at the hands of Glenafton, while more than a few eyebrows were raised by Ardeer Thistle, currently third in the Division B standings , having a totally unexpected  9-0 hammering inflicted on them by second bottom of the Premier pile strugglers Kilbirnie Ladeside.

Thistle boss Sean Kenney gallantly lauded the Blasties while at the same time describing his hitherto strong going team’s performance as “a bad day at the office” but somewhat more telling observations were made in the aftermath of Neilston’s 2-1 defeat at Bellsdale Park where co-manager Derek Carson hinted at a need to rearrange the furniture.

The former defender insisted: "If we did manage to finish as top dogs…and that’s a big if…then Chris Cameron and I would be comfortable with the thought of coming up with this team however we would definitely need a few strengthening  tweaks  here  and there in order to be competitive.

“You can see that from the eachy-peachy 90 minutes today when any neutral would have struggled for long spells to pick out the Premier League side however the extra bit of quality in Beith’s locker has made all the difference to the final result.

“We have conceded poor goals due to needlessly giving the ball away which more often than not goes unpunished at Conference level but you get your come-uppance if you do the same against the big boys as we have found out to our cost “

A glimpse at the Second Round draw (see below), scheduled for Saturday 16th October, shows there as many as 13 (unlucky for whom?) Premier v Conference clashes earmarked to take place however the best hope of another  David against Goliath outcome appears to rest on the shoulders of Divison A title aspirants Arthurlie in hosting the visit of Benburb  though Kilbirnie may not have things all their own way at home to Port Glasgow while  Largs Thistle will not find a much improved Glasgow Perthshire to be easy touches down at Barrfields .

SOUTH CHALLENGE CUP Second  Round Draw:  Thornton Hibs v Lochore Welfare Kinnoull v Harthill Royal,Bo'ness United v Kirkcaldy & Dysart,Cumbernauld United v Inverkeithing Hillfield Swifts ,Glenrothes v St Andrews United, Caledonian Braves v Kennoway Star Hearts, Kilsyth Rangers v Thorniewood United, Dunipace v Sauchie, Jeanfield Swifts v BSC Glasgow, Burntisland Shipyard v Stirling University, Dundonald Bluebell v Crossgates Primrose, Berwick Rangers v Broxburn Athletic, Edinburgh University v Dalkeith Thistle, Easthouses Lily v Spartans, Saltcoats Victoria v Glasgow United Irvine Meadow v Kilwinning Rangers Irvine Victoria v Vale of Leven, Vale of Clyde v Pollok, St Cadocs v  Petershill St Peters v Beith, Rossvale v Campbeltown Pupils, Kilbirnie Ladeside v Port Glasgow,Yoker Athletic v Drumchapel United,Tynecastle v Armadale Thistle, East Kilbride Thistle v Newton Stewart, Bonnyton Thistle v St Cuthbert Wanderers, Blantyre Victoria v Cumnock,  Abbey Vale v Newmains United. Girvan v Maybole,Larkhall Thistle v East Kilbride F.C.Auchinleck Talbot v Forth Wanderers, Cambuslang Rangers v Lochmaben,Lochar Thistle v Threave Rovers, Lesmahagow v Creetown,Troon v Lanark United,Glenafton Athletic v Kello Rovers,Muirkirk v Whitletts Victoria, Hurlford United v Wishaw, Largs Thistle v Glasgow Perthshire, Arthurlie v Benburb, Finnart v Broomhill Sports ,St Anthonys v Rutherglen Glencairn,Johnstone Burgh v Greenock, Coldstream v Tweedmouth Rangers,Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic v Arniston Rangers, West Calder United v Bathgate Thistle, Edinburgh College v Penicuik Athletic Harmony Row v Clydebank,Haddington Athletic v Leith Athletic, Pumpherston v Edinburgh United, Blackburn United v Stoneyburn, Ormiston v Hawick RAU, Darvel v Gretna 2008, Bo'ness Athletic v Gartcairn, Glasgow University v Luncarty Cumbernauld Colts v Rosyth ,Lothian Thistle HV v Civil Service Strollers, Linlithgow Rose v Camelon , Whitburn v Gala Fairydean Rovers,Preston Athletic OR Fauldhouse United v Peebles Rovers,Newtongrange Star v Tranent OR Livingston United, Syngenta OR Newburgh v Oakley United . BYES: Renfrew , Lugar Boswell Thistle.

On a sadder note, comes word of the passing of legendary trainer and coach Hughie  McDonald on Monday evening.

Hughie (pictured bottom right) was  affectionately known as “Mad Dog” by those of us who benefited most from his infamous fitness routines and  first came to prominence with the Sconie  Davidson steered Kilbirnie Ladeside Scottish Junior Cup winning team of 1977 before moving to Auchinleck Talbot and establishing himself as an integral figure in their  1986-88 “Three In A Row” Cup winning sides under Willie Knox .

His charismatic and inspirational qualities brought recognition at Scotland Juniors level and Hughie also enjoyed memorable spells at Pollok, when Tommy Reynolds was at the helm , as well as Irvine Meadow.

PLAYING SATURDAY 18th SEPTEMBER 2021(Kick Offs 2PM unless stated):

Scottish Cup.First Round(3PM):  Broomhill v Glasgow University, Clydebank v Dalkeith Thistle, Formartine Utd v Cumnock, Irvine Meadow  v Auchinleck Talbot,Keith v Darvel,P.D.M. Buildbase Premier League. Benburb v Troon, Largs Thistle v Rob  Roy, Cumbernauld Utd v Kilbirnie Ladeside, Pollok v Kilwinning Rangers, Beith v Bonnyton Thistle,Rutherglen Glencairn v Glenafton, Darvel v Cumnock, Rossvale v Blantyre Vics ,PDM Buildbase Conference League A, Irvine Vics v Johnstone Burgh, Maybole v Maryhill, Muirkirk v Lesmahagow, Girvan v Lugar Boswell, Saltcoats Vics v Bellshill Athletic,Forth Wanderers v Craigmark, Arthurlie v Whitletts Vics.

PDM Buildbase Conference League B: Greenock v Thorniewood Utd, Glasgow Utd v St Cadocs, Ardeer Thistle v  Gartcairn, Cambuslang Rangers  v Kello Rovers, Ashfield v  Port Glasgow,Dalry Thistle v Royal Albert, Renfrew v Carluke Rovers.PDM Buildbase Conference League C. Vale of Leven  v St Rochs,Neilston v Larkhall  Thistle, St Anthonys v Yoker  Athletic, Lanark Utd v Drumchapel Utd,  East  Kilbride Thistle v Kilsyth  Rangers,Vale of Clyde v Glasgow Perthshire, Ardrossan Winton Rovers v Wishaw.PDM Buildbase Division Four. BSC Glasgow v Glenvale,Campbelltown Pupils v Harthill  Royal, Harmony Row v  Kilsyth Athletic