Little learns to be tough after year in the job

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IAN Little knows only too well the importance of the Scottish Cup. After all, it was a Scottish Cup defeat this time last year that gave him the chance to take over as Berwick Rangers manager.

Almost exactly one year on from the Deveronvale debacle, when Berwick’s humiliating 4-0 defeat led to the departure of Jimmy Crease as manager, Little feels more relaxed and says he has learned a lot over the past 12 months.

“I’ve had to mature as a person,” he said, reflecting on his year in charge. “Not just in football, outside of football as well. I’ve had to do more public speaking, for example, which I was never comfortable with. I’ve had to handle lots of different things.

“Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is to realise that if players are not giving their all and working hard, you’ve got to be strong with them.”

Assistant manager when Crease resigned, Little was initially handed the top job on a caretaker basis, but the position was extended in December until the end of the season before being made permanent.

“I’m enjoying it more now than I did when I started,” he added. “I’ve got my belief in my way of playing and I’ve been able to put my stamp on the team this season by bringing players in. I just need to improve results to keep the directors happy.”

Unlike Crease, Little has at least managed to negotiate a route past Highland League opposition in this season’s Scottish Cup.

Berwick may have been rather fortunate to scrape past Wick Academy in the last round at Shielfield, but they got the job done and are now just one more win away from the chance to be drawn against SPL opponents.

“The players thrive on that chance,” said Little, whose team are away to Stenhousemuir in the third round this Saturday. “But the Scottish Cup is important for the club financially too.”

With several players recovering from illness and others carrying knocks, Stenhousemuir don’t have their problems to seek. Humiliated in a 7-2 defeat away to Brechin City in their last outing, the Second Division side will be without suspended midfielder Brown Ferguson this weekend.

But Little, who won the Challenge Cup as a Stenhousemuir player in 1995/96, knows the Warriors will be formidable opponents. “I’m not reading too much into that,” he said. “Hopefully it will have knocked the stuffing out of them, but they have made a good start to the season and we’ll have to be at 100 per cent to stand a chance.”

Little hinted that he may bring captain Chris Townsley back into the starting line-up this weekend, probably at the expense of centre-back Andy McLean. Townsley has been left out for the past two weeks after missing training.

“Chris missed training for two weeks, which is why he was dropped. But he is back now and he is my captain, so I want him in the team,” Little explained.

“Andy has been patient and he’s had to wait a while. He puts a lot of effort in at training and he is giving us competition for places.”

Marc Lancaster and Dene Droudge remain on the injured list, while Damian Gielty is carrying a knock. Winger Ross Gray, who has returned on loan from First Division Livingston for a third time, is eligible to feature.