Co-manager Graeme Mathieson believes he couldn’t have chosen a better group of players to try to get Cove Rangers promoted.
The Highland League champions face Berwick Rangers tomorrow at the Balmoral Stadium in the first leg of the pyramid play-off final.
The Granite City outfit are just 180 minutes away from achieving their long-held ambition of becoming an SPFL club.
But Cove have been in this position before – this is their third time in the play-offs.
In 2016 they took on Edinburgh City in the semi-finals, but were beaten 4-1 on aggregate as the capital side went on to scalp East Stirlingshire in the final and claim a place in League Two.
Last year Cove reached the final but were edged out 3-2 by Cowdenbeath in controversial circumstances at Central Park.
This time Cove are stronger and Mathieson – who has been involved in the previous two play-off bids – believes their squad have evolved and are better equipped to make the step up to the SPFL.
Mathieson, who is in charge while fellow boss John Sheran recovers from a heart attack, said: “With the games against Cowdenbeath last year we have been here before and learned a great deal from that.
“We’ve spoken this year about how we manage these games and how we get through the times in between.
“We’re a lot more prepared I think this time. It’s a group of young players but we have grown up and learned.
“I just feel if ever there was a squad capable of achieving the step-up this would be the group of players I would have chosen to do it.
“We’ve definitely seen a progression in the squad.
“We have experienced players and when you look at the Cowdenbeath games last year we didn’t have a lot of them available due to injury.
“We were without Ryan Strachan and Ryan is a fantastic player, who you wouldn’t want to go into any game without – you’ve got Ryan available and alongside him is Scott Ross who was also at Peterhead and they both have lots of experience.
“They’re good with the boys around them such as Harry Milne at left-back, who is young but has matured a lot.
“Connor Scully has changed position (from wide to central midfield) this season and he has revelled in that.
“For me he has been one of our top players this season, he’s been fantastic.
“Blair Yule has come back to us after getting league experience with Arbroath and is another fantastic player.
“I think we have evolved and I would say this is the best equipped group I’ve worked with to try to make the step up.”
Cove will be without the experienced Martin Scott, who is suspended after being sent off for a stamp against East Kilbride.
Cove did appeal the red card but that was rejected by the SFA yesterday.
Although losing Scott is a blow Mathieson insists they have plenty of options to replace him.
He added: “This year, unlike last year, we still have a squad of 20 to pick from.
“We’ve got someone like Jordon Brown who has scored 19 goals from midfield.
“We’ve got Jordan MacRae and Paul McManus who is very experienced so those are three players who are all capable of scoring goals and giving us something different.”
Berwick have endured a difficult campaign which has seen them finish bottom of League Two.
In an attempt to rejuvenate the squad ahead of the play-offs they sacked manager Johnny Harvey last week and drafted in John Brownlie.
It’s Brownlie’s first job as gaffer since 2003 when he was at Arbroath, but the Shielfield Park side will be hoping the 67-year-old can change their fortunes.
Cove have done their homework on Berwick, but Mathieson admits the Wee Gers squad may have been lifted by the appointment of a new manager – which could make them even tougher to face.
He said: “The people who did presentations for us on East Kilbride have done the same with Berwick.
“We’ll do work with the players to make them aware of the dangers.
“So our preparations are going well, but with a new manager in place things may change and it might give Berwick’s players a lift.
“As a club with a long history Berwick don’t want to be dropping out of Scottish league football and players don’t want to be part of the squad it happened to.
“They’ll be fighting for their lives and that makes it even more difficult because you’ve got a group of players fighting for survival.”