WHAT a difference a week has made to John McKeown, the new manager of Cumnock Juniors.

Last weekend he was in the dugout at Beltane Park as his Wishaw side denied Central First Division pacesetters Lesmahagow their sixth win in six games with a creditable 1-1 draw.

But tomorrow he'll face a baptism of fire as he takes charge of his new team for the first time in a New Coin Holdings West of Scotland Cup first round tie against Ayrshire rivals Auchinleck Talbot at their Beechwood Park fortress.

The huge size of the task will come as no surprise to McKeown, who had a spell at the 'Nock as a centre-half under Campbell Money.

A hip injury then put an end to his playing career but led to him, at 32, becoming one of the youngest bosses in the Junior ranks.

Victory over West Cup holders Talbot would grant him instant cult-hero status, especially as even diehard Cumnock fans rate their team as massive underdogs.

But McKeown insists that he and his assistants Paul McColl and Martin Devlin are anything but resigned to coming off second best.

And they're taking heart from Bot's recent troubles, which have seen Edinburgh City knock them out of the William Hill Scottish Cup before Glenafton won 2-0 in the Ardagh Glass League Cup Final last Sunday.

The new Cumnock gaffer explained: "Auchinleck have enjoyed bragging rights for some considerable time but that counts for nothing on derby occasions. I believe the added edge to the game will lift our players.

"No one gives us a chance of turning them over, so all the pressure is on Talbot.

"It will be preying on their players' minds that, almost unbelievably, they stand on the verge of losing three games on the trot.

"I watched Glenafton beat them last weekend in Troon and saw one or two things we can maybe exploit.

"But I'm refusing to dwell on them as I'm sure Tommy Sloan will make changes to his team. It's best if we concentrate on our own game.

"The early signs are that this squad is blessed with quality players. If everyone gives me their all then I'll be a happy manager."

Auchinleck will welcome the return of Gordon Pope and hope to have centre-back Mark Campbell passed fit.

Colin Spence and James Latta, both subs at Portland Park, could also start.

McKeown's departure has prompted Wishaw Secretary Robert Watson to state: "We are very disappointed to lose someone as talented as John but we always knew he was a rising star and other clubs were watching his development as a manager.

"It seemed he was being touted as a candidate every time a job was up for grabs.

"But the lure of returning to Cumnock and the chance to manage in the Super Premier was something he clearly couldn't resist.

"As a club, we want to put on record our appreciation for all his hard work here and wish John the very best for his future in the game."

Officials will take charge of Wishaw's team for tomorrow's West of Scotland Cup home tie against Forth.

And Watson continued: "We feel certain there will be considerable interest in the manager's position here.

"We will be looking for someone who can stabilise the club in the short term then continue the work of taking the club forward.

"Our progress during John's tenure brought a lot of favourable publicity to the town. Now we want to continue building a club of which the people of Wishaw can justly be proud."

Watson confirmed he had already received "several tentative approaches" about the vacant managerial post.

Anyone interested can phone 07764 223057 or email: wishawjuniors@hotmail.com. The early frontrunners include ex-Thorniewood boss Kieran McGuiness and Colin Mitchell, who was in charge at Bellshill Athletic and East Kilbride Thistle.


(Kick-offs 2pm)

New Coin Holdings West of Scotland Cup. First round: Benburb v Girvan, Johnstone Burgh v Dunipace, St Anthony's v Vale of Clyde, Beith v Carluke, East Kilbride v Vale of Leven, Muirkirk v Hurlford, Craigmark v Clydebank, Lanark v Kilbirnie Ladeside, Saltcoats v Largs, Annbank v Rossvale, Irvine Vics v Blantyre Vics, Troon v Kilsyth, Dalry v Shettleston, Royal Albert v Maryhill, Perthshire v Glencairn, Wishaw v Forth, Ardeer v Rob Roy, Ardrossan v Lugar, Petershill v Cambuslang, Shotts v Neilston, Arthurlie v Newmains, Auchinleck v Cumnock, Kello v Whitletts, Irvine Meadow v Port Glasgow, Cumbernauld v Lesmahagow, Darvel v Kilwinning, St Roch's v Glenafton, Yoker v Bellshill, Pollok v Thorniewood, Maybole v Ashfield, Greenock v Renfrew.