THEY SHALL NOT PASS: Cove Rangers trio Stuart McKenzie, Scott Ross and Ryan Strachan in action at Forres last weekend, when they helped record the club’s 26th clean sheet in the league this season.

COVE Rangers defender Ryan Strachan reckons they won’t have faced a tougher challenge this season than they are about to get when they face East Kilbride in the SPFL Pyramid Play-offs.
Cove face the Lowland League champions in the first leg of their play-off semi at the K-Park Training Academy a week on Saturday, with the return at Balmoral Stadium seven days later.
Former Peterhead player Ryan warned his team-mates they are going to have to raise their game significantly if Cove are to be the side who go on to face Albion Rovers or Berwick Rangers next month in the play off final.
“These are going to be two huge games that will show just how good a team we really are,” said Ryan.
“We have been pretty dominant in the Highland League for the bulk of this season but we are about to face opponents who are a class above the majority in our division.
“I played against many of the East Kilbride side when I was at Peterhead.
“Any side made up almost entirely of players with SPFL experience demands respect.
“They have plenty of talent  and are physically strong so we are really going to have to be at our very best if we want to make it to the play-off final.
“Like ourselves, East Kilbride haven’t lost at home and don’t concede a lot of goals either.
“They are at totally different level to what we experienced when we beat Edinburgh Spartans at the same stage a year ago.
“We hammered Spartans in the first match and were able to take things a bit easier in the second leg.
“But this one will be a lot tougher, it’s going to have to be won over the two legs.
“The target will be to come back from East Kilbride with a result that gives us a chance to finish the job off at our place, but that will be far from easy.”
Cove underlined their own defensive  strength by racking up their 26 clean league  sheet when they clinched the Breedon Highland League title with a 1-0 victory away to Forres Mechanics last weekend.
It was also their 31st clean sheet in all competitions, and it’s a record Ryan admits everyone at the club is very proud of.
He’s hoping they can make it 27 clean sheets in 34 when they play their final league game of the season against Clach at Balmoral this Saturday.
Cove will also be presented with the league trophy after that match.
“Not conceding a goal in so many matches is an amazing achievement,” said Ryan.
“Defenders and keepers play their part in that sort of thing but we really are a side who defend from the very front.
“There have been a lot of games when opponents have hardly created any chances because the guys in front of us have worked so hard to stop them doing it.
“It’s pleasing because strikers live for scoring goals and it’s the opposite for defenders, there really is nothing better than coming off the pitch with a win and a clean sheet.
“It’s fantastic we’ve had so many, hopefully there will be more to come before this season ends.”
Ryan and Scott Ross have been the central defensive partnership for the majority of the season, although the contribution made by long serving club skipper Eric Watson was also quickly acknowledged.
“Having a pretty settled defence has played a big part,” said Ryan.
“It was also an advantage that Ross and I also played together at Peterhead for a long time.
“It has allowed us to form a strong partnership and I really enjoy playing alongside Scott.
“He’s really good in the air for his size and has plenty of pace so between us we tend to get the job done.
“But the defensive masterclass that’s been put on this season isn’t just down to us.
“We have the best keeper in the league behind us in Stuart McKenzie.
“And every other  player in our squad has stood up and done their bit at some stage, none more so than Eric.
“I have the highest of admiration for the man.
“Eric is Cove Rangers through and through, if you cut him he would probably bleed blue!
“Even though he hasn’t been playing as often as he would have liked, Eric has remained a positive figure in our dressing room, encouraging us to go out there and do our best to get the results we wanted.
“He’s shown why he has been the captain and leader at Cove Rangers for so long.
“This latest title was his sixth and he’s won a host of other honours too, which underlines how talented a player Eric is.
“He will be looking forward to lifting the league trophy again this weekend, that’s for sure.
“But Eric, like the rest of us, will also be looking towards the play-offs and hoping he can play a part in helping Cove finally make it up into the SPFL.”

COVE Rangers fans are reminded the clash with East Kilbride at the 660 capacity K-Park Training Academy is not all ticket.
Cove fans have been allocated an enclosure with its own entrance, catering and toilet facilities as well as a small section in the Main Stand for those in need of a seat.
East Kilbride officials will advise supporters on their arrival.
Tickets are £8 for adults and £4 for concessions and fans are advised to arrive early ahead  of the 3pm kick-off.