Alloa Athletic: Jack Ross relishing cup exploits as Celtic wait
Jack Ross tuned into the radio to hear Alloa's fate. Even before the League One side were drawn to visit Celtic in the quarter-final of the Betfred Cup, he was already reminded of the extent of their achievement.
Just being listed among the likes of the Premiership champions, Rangers and Aberdeen resonated for the manager who had guided the club to this stage of the competition for the first time in 51 years.
There might have been some mixed feelings, since there was not a tougher potential tie but nor one more lucrative.
Ross is a shrewd figure who has never fallen into any of the game's stereotypes. His work at Alloa has been a form of rejuvenation. He could not prevent them from being relegated from the Championship last season but achieved enough of a turnaround in performance to feel encouraged to carry on this season.
He has overseen a run of six consecutive victories, including League Cup successes against Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle and their opener in League One.
Drawing Celtic will be challenging, but not daunting to the 40-year-old.
"It's difficult, a huge challenge, but not impossible," Ross said. "We'll approach it in that manner. We're under no illusions on how the game will pan out at times but there's no point in working as hard as we have done to get to this stage and then rolling over.
"There will be a lot of people at the club excited, it was the early '80s since they visited Celtic in a game.
|Alloa record against Celtic|
|Played: 9 Won: 0 Draws: 0 Lost: 9 Goals for: 7 Goals against: 31|
|Last meeting was at Alloa in 2001-02 Scottish Cup, which Celtic won 5-0|
|Last meeting at Celtic Park was second leg of 1982/83 League Cup tie, which Celtic won 4-1 to claim aggregate victory of 9-1|
"The reality, to get to this point with a 100% record is terrific. We know how difficult it is at any level to go that number of games consecutively winning. The players are enjoying it, and it's a case of trying to continue it for as long as you can. It doesn't need to end."
A trip to Celtic Park will provide some financial benefits to Alloa, which Ross may be able to utilise later in the campaign but he is happy with his summer recruitment.
He spent much of that time on the phone, trying to persuade players to move to a club that had just been relegated and whose artificial surface was the subject of much criticism.
Ross was busy, with 12 leaving and 10 arriving. He was helped, in part, by the team's relegation, since it allowed an element of planning to begin before the end of last season, but also by the laying of a new artificial surface at the Indodrill Stadium.
"The surface that's down now is as good as any in the country," Ross said. "It helped me recruit players. I made sure the club did some PR on the fact that we were getting the new surface, because that was an important selling point.
"It was a new experience in terms of identifying the types of players that I wanted to get into the club and then trying to recruit them, the negotiating process that goes with that.
"I pestered a lot of players on a regular basis and convinced a number of them to sign when they probably had better offers elsewhere.
"I have a chairman who has complete faith in me and allows me to run the football side and I have a lot of responsibility with that, more than you might get at a bigger club because you don't have the same resources and support network.
"I had things to my advantage in that the club has a good reputation for how it looks after players. That extends back to when Paul [Hartley] had the job, he brought a renewed professionalism and the club has maintained those standards."
|Alloa's summer of upheaval|
|Jim Goodwin, 34, midfielder||Aron Lynas, 20, midfielder|
|Neil Parry, 30, goalkeeper||David Crawford, 31, goalkeeper|
|Andy Graham, 32, centre-back||Colin Hamilton, 24, left-back|
|Scott Taggart, 24, right-back||Dougie Hill, 31, centre-back|
|Jamie Longworth, 28, centre-forward||Mark Williams, 21, centre-back|
|Calum Waters, 20, left-back||Scott Gallacher, 26, goalkeeper|
|Kevin Cawley, 27, right wing||Burton O'Brien, 35, midfielder|
|Jon Robertson, 27, midfielder||Ryan Finnie, 21, right-back|
|Greig Spence, 23, centre-forward||Eddie Fearns, 25, midfielder|
|Craig McDowall, 25, goalkeeper||Mitch Megginson, 23, left wing|
|Liam Caddis, 22, midfielder|
|Kyle McAusland, 23, defender|
There are challenges, not least the players all being part-time. Ross did not see them between post-match on Saturday against Peterhead and pre-match on Tuesday against Inverness, but he played part-time for a season himself and coached under similar circumstances at Dumbarton, so he understands the demands.
Ross is quick to credit his players for the fitness and conditioning work they do in their own time and there is a sense that the manager and his squad are developing a strong bond.
He is enthused by the job for all its challenges. Given his abrupt departure from a coaching role at Hearts, which left him temporarily doubting his involvement in football, the purpose and belief has been welcome.
"When the opportunity came up, I was at a fairly low point," Ross said. "I questioned, like I've done at different times, whether or not I wanted to stay within the game. I've had different experiences in it and at times it can be sore. I thought long and hard about it.
"The chairman had faith in me and that was encouraging. It's allowed me to regain a lot of self-belief in the way I try to do things can be successful, rather than trying to mould myself into something I'm not."