FORT William boss Danny Conlon admits being thumped by Formartine United was brutal – but he hopes his youngsters can land a telling blow against them this weekend.
Steve Paterson's big spenders crushed threadbare Fort 5-1 at Claggan Park in September and in recent months they have shot themselves firmly into title contention with some more staggering results.
On Saturday, they hammered Huntly 6-1 at Christie Park to leave them in third spot, just six points behind leaders Cove Rangers – with five games in hand.
Fort, meanwhile, crashed to a 3-0 home defeat against Keith in a match which kicked off at 1.30pm due to the recently damaged floodlights.
After a bright start from the hosts, Keith took the lead on 33 minutes when Cammy Keith headed the ball into the net from eight yards.
The Maroons, who played in their change white kits, doubled their advantage on 76 minutes when Jonathan Smith found the net.
Cammy Keith notched his team's third goal to complete a fine afternoon for the visitors.
However, Conlon said: "Given what we had available to us, we more than matched them, especially in the first half. In the second half, we tired and they pressed further up. They have players of the calibre of Cammy Keith and that shows what we were up against.
"We were already missing a few players going into Thursday, but then Darren Duncan called off with a chest infection and Iain Foggo missed out because of flu.
"Overall, we had five or six first-team players missing. Far bigger clubs than us would struggle with that and in the end the scoreline was a fair reflection on the play."
Looking ahead to the testing trip to Formartine, Conlon said: "We always tend to struggle against the bigger and physically stronger sides. Earlier in the season, they gave us a real going over here and it was tough. It was hard to watch, but it was even tougher for the players. We will need everyone to be fit, available and at the top of their game for this one. Formartine are on a terrific run and have every right to feel they can challenge for the league."
Conlon, meanwhile, said the decision by chairman Derek McGillivray to step down won't make a huge difference to his own day-to-day role.
He said: "I said before Derek came in last year that the change at that level doesn't make a massive difference to my work and I say the same again. My job is to get a team on the pitch, despite the financial and geographical challenges we have here at Fort William.
"We are coaches who do this job for the love of the game, but I would agree with Derek's plea to your paper that the club needs as many volunteers as possible to help this club, from top to bottom."
Duncan and Foggo could make a returns this weekend, along with Sean Grant, who has been unavailable through work commitments.