ARDROSSAN Winton Rovers boss Gavin Friels says his side will learn more from their loss to Darvel than they could in 10 league matches.

The West of Scotland Football League (WoSFL) Second Division high-flyers crashed out the league cup following a 3-1 defeat at Recreation Park.

However, Friels remains upbeat despite the loss - as his side turn their thoughts back to winning promotion from the third tier.

“It was a good test for us," he said. "We gave a good account of ourselves.

"Darvel are a good side, one of the top four teams in the Premier Division.

“We’ve got away with things at the level we’re playing at which you don’t get away with there, so it’s good experience for the boys to learn that.

“If we played that level of team more often, we would be better and the game would have been even closer – but there wasn’t too much in it.

“I think all the Darvel fans will agree we looked a decent side.”

Learning from the match was the biggest takeaway for the Winton boss who welcomed the opportunity to play a competitive match against one of the top sides in the WoSFL.

Friels added: “You’ll learn more from that on Saturday than you will five or ten league games.

“The important thing was that we tried to play the way we can play, and stuck to what we were doing.

“It gave the boys a good bit of belief. If we play like that when we get to the league above we will be more than fine.

“That was the marker for us on Saturday. We were there to measure how far we have come.

“The gap's definitely closing for us. We’re not quite there yet but we’re on the right path.”

Friels' thoughts, and those of his players, are now fully focused on the Ayrshire derby clash this weekend which - if results elsewhere go their way - could see that place in the second tier secured.

Muirkirk are the visitors to Winton Park on March 23 for Rovers' first home match in more than a month.

Winton, currently 14 points clear at the top, will secure promotion if they beat Muirkirk - and if third-top Caledonian Locomotive fail to win at home to Craigmark. 

With five games left after the Muirkirk clash, most pundits would say it's a question of when, not if, Winton's second successive promotion is confirmed.

And whether it happens this Saturday, or in one of their remaining fixtures, it'll then be all about ensuring they finish top of the pile.

"We’re only six games away from finishing the season," Friels said. "Before, I think there was a bit of desperation to get the points on the board.

“Now I think we are relaxed. We’re just looking forward to the game.

“We’re more than happy with where we are just now. We’re in a great position. If we get the win on Saturday we can almost touch the league above.

“Then the pressure is off a bit, because that’s where we need to get to as a club. We need to be tested every week.

"That’s no disrespect to the teams in our league. But if we want to get better, we need to be playing the top teams week in week out, to get to the level I want us to get to.

And while Winton can't confirm promotion this Saturday without help from elsewhere, Friels says his full focus will be on the pitch at Winton Park until the final whistle blows.

“We’ll just concentrate on our game," he said.

"We’d be lying if we said we weren’t checking the scores of all the teams about us after the game.

“If someone comes back and says you’re promoted I’m pretty sure the boys will celebrate in the changing room.

“It would be a massive achievement for us to do back-to-back promotions.”