Larne’s rise up the rankings may attract outside interest but Albert Watson views internal standards the true measure of any progress following a return to senior football.
An emphatic march to the Bluefin Sport Championship title last season provided a return in rewards for the significant financial investment in the club.
Summer additions in preparation for the Danske Bank Premiership only served to increase expectations over Larne’s prospects for the current campaign.
However, the gap between theory and reality is one Watson feels the club must bridge to continue to progress - with Saturday’s spirited 2-2 draw against battle-hardened Crusaders a fitting example.
Watson was pleased with the step forward from the Ballymena blues.
“After losing to Ballymena United the week before by 4-2 many outside the club were writing us off,” said Watson, who signed on for the Larne project having enjoyed past Irish League experience with Ballymena United and Linfield alongside spells in Canada and Iceland. “But you look around the squad and it is a group with experience from a higher level maybe but the Irish League is completely different.
“I’ve seen it over the years, players who may be technically brilliant coming in and struggling to settle.
“It is going to be a learning curve for the group but I felt we deserved to beat Crusaders, on the balance of chances.
“We were disappointed with the first goal from Philip Lowry but then, after Davy McDaid missing a penalty kick, scored a good goal off a Crusaders mistake thanks to Johnny McMurray before half-time.
“Sean Graham put us ahead with a great finish and Johnny had a chance to make it 3-1.
“To limit Crusaders in the second half is a positive but we know David Cushley is very good from that distance, so his goal was disappointing.
“In terms of positives, we were good defensively and with our pressing - all of the things we were not good at the previous game.
“Today was a learning curve physically, Crusaders offer the biggest battle in terms of physically, so I thought the boys stood up well to that challenge.
“We know we can do the passing and playing nice football, you saw that in spells against Crusaders.
“But we had to match Crusaders for fight and work-rate, basically bottle, so that’s a statement to ourselves.
“We will stand up to the fight in every way.
“The previous week we held our hands up after the Ballymena United game and accepted the situation.
“But, as long as you learn from those setbacks and then turn any disappointments into a positive.”
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Hegarty, Coates (Clarke, 63), Lowry, Ward, R.Hale (Caddell, 74), Forsythe, O’Rourke, Owens (Cushley, 74), Heatley.
Subs (not used): Beverland, Ruddy, Thompson, Doherty.
LARNE: Devlin, Kelly, Watson, McEleney, Sule, Randall, McDaid (Lynch, 71), Graham (Tilney, 83), Cosgrove, Hughes, McMurray (Stewart, 80).
Subs (not used): Mitchell, Ramsey, Donnelly, Hassin.
Referee: Tim Marshall.