Cove Rangers boss Paul Hartley is looking forward to squaring off against old pal Barry Ferguson in League One this weekend.
Ex-Celtic and Hearts midfielder Hartley and former Rangers captain Ferguson played together for Scotland, lining up in huge games like the 2007 1-0 Euro 2008 qualifying win over France in Paris, as well as the subsequent 2-1 play-off heartbreaker against Italy at Hampden.
However, the pair go all the way back to under-8s, turning out together for Hamilton youth outfit Mill Park.
With Ferguson now in charge at Alloa Athletic, who are trying to bounce back from their relegation from the Championship last term, and Cove also seeking promotion to the second tier at the end of this season, both men’s experience of the game at the top level will likely be pivotal as they collide as managers.
Ahead of the game at Recreation Park, Hartley said: “I think with Barry, he did really well at Kelty last year, he’s been at Clyde, he’s been at Blackpool in terms of his managerial career. Obviously he had top career as a player and was outstanding.
“We go back a long time, all the way back to boys’ club level.
“He’s got great experience and knowledge of the game, and he’s built a good squad there, a strong squad with a lot of good experienced players.”
Alloa v Cove is a fixture which is rich in background, the Hartley-Ferguson friendship aside – Hartley’s first job in management was at Recreation Park and he led Alloa up to the old First Division in 2013, while Cove skipper Mitch Megginson has also had two spells in Clackmannanshire.
Although Alloa tasted bitter disappointment last term, they remain an ambitious part-time outfit, just like their Granite City visitors.
Hartley said: “We have come a long way from the Highland League and we’re pretty evenly matched in League One.
“Cove have come a long way, but I think Alloa came a long way in that time.
“They punched above their weight in the Championship for a lot of years.
“It’s a club I know pretty well, which gave me my first start in management.
“It’s always been a great part-time club, good people at the club, a great chairman in Mike (Mulraney), who’s pretty much the same as our chairman, Keith (Moorhouse).”
‘I think it’ll be nip and tuck all the way through the season’
Cove will still be without defender Jevan Anderson for the clash, while former Ross County midfielder Ross Draper, who has struggled with injury since his statement arrival on a three-year deal in the summer alongside Iain Vigurs, has been loaned to Elgin City until January.
Hartley’s team go into the game four games unbeaten in the league, having won their last two, including last weekend’s 1-0 home victory against Airdrieonians.
Cove may be sitting close to the summit of League One, but Hartley thinks the division will remain tight all the way through the campaign and, as a result, he’s prioritising wins over performances.
He said: “To go on a run of three or four games on the bounce is extremely difficult.
“You’ll be doing well to do that. There’s not a lot between any of the clubs top and bottom.
“I think it’ll be nip and tuck all the way through the season. Top to seventh or eighth – there’s nothing in it – and every game’s difficult, home or away.”
Hartley added: “The last couple of games we’ve won against difficult opponents, we’ve kept clean sheets. You need to find a different way of winning sometimes, it can’t always be pretty where you get the ball down and pass it.
“That’s just not the way the game works. The top teams don’t do that either – they find a way of winning, by hook or by crook.
“We want to go there on Saturday, away from home at a venue that’s tough for anybody – they’ve proved that already with the results they’ve had, beating Falkirk there, and then going away to Montrose and winning.
“I expect another tough encounter.”