SOMETHING of a mini-acid test is looming for Super Premier Division frontrunners Kilwinning Rangers.

Opinions continue to vary wildly on whether the Abbey Park side are likely champions elect under the tutelage of Chris Strain with optimistic followers insisting the title is theirs to lose given their six-point lead atop the standings. However, cynics and critics reckon it is only a matter of time before they are reeled in by a chasing pack headed up by five-time championship winners Auchinleck Talbot.

The portents for this coming Saturday are potentially pivotal with the Buffs making the short hop to face fifth-placed Kilbirnie Ladeside arguably considered the toughest task of all the leading clubs seeking to pick up league points.

And it has surely not escaped boss Strain’s attention that the following weekend finds closest challengers, Auchinleck Talbot and Beith, involved in Scottish Junior Cup quarter-final action while Kilwinning take to the road again to go up against reigning champions Glenafton.

The likelihood of back-to-back away wins extending his side’s lead atop the standings to nine points is an obvious one but the Buffs gaffer steadfastly refused to entertain the prospect when speaking last night.

"Never has the old saying about taking one game at a time been more appropriate than in our current circumstances," he insisted.

“The players have shown tremendous consistency by winning more games as well as losing fewer than any other Super Premier Division outfit and there’s no denying we will be in with a real shout of finishing top of the pile if that continues to be the case.

“But I also know that every one of the title challengers is going to drop points between now and the end of season, ourselves included, so the head to heads between the top six or seven clubs are going to be crucial.”

Kilwinning’s last visit to Valefield resulted in a 4-2 victory in an Ardagh Glass Cup contest however Strain believes that early-season outcome will have no bearing on Saturday’s clash.

He said: “Budgie McGhie was only putting the semblance of his Kilbirnie team together when we last met but he now has a much more settled line-up and we are going to have to be at the very top of our game.

“That wasn’t the case in our last outing against Girvan when we needed an injury time Carlo Monti goal to secure a 2-1 victory but the pitch was not the best and the guys hadn’t played in the previous five weeks so all things considered, I was more than happy to come away with all three points.

“But we cannot afford to be so far off the pace and still trying to find our feet at Valefield because Kilbirnie are more than capable of sending us away with a bloody nose if we are not at it from the first whistle.

“Budgie deserves credit for unearthing a real scoring threat in Jon Scullion and James Finlay while behind them the likes of experienced pair Davie Anderson and John Sweeney are pulling the strings and this Kilbirnie team are in the title race on merit.

“But so too are my players and we will not lack for confidence going through there.”

In other top flight games, second-top Auchinleck Talbot look a good bet to take the spoils away to struggling Girvan and hard not to think Rob Roy can get the better of bottom markers Clydebank or that Glenafton will overcome Arthurlie at Loch Park.

The return of Grant Evans and possibly Bryan Wharton should stiffen Pollok’s backline for the visit to Newlandsfield of Hurlford United while Beith’s attacking riches should ensure Johnny Millar’s men come good at home to Cumnock.