THE New Year's Resolution to get fit often falls by the wayside as progress stalls, but Cumnock boss Peter Leonard can definitely testify to its merits after seeing his side muscle their way up the league table.

Drafted in last October with Nock languishing bottom of the Super Premier Division, Leonard prioritised the fundamentals of hard running and organisation in a bid to turn around the Ayrshire side’s fortunes.

That graft has paid dividends, with cup progress followed up by back-to-back league wins in 2018 that have seen Cumnock clamber clear of the drop zone.

For Leonard, his players' thankless endeavours over the festive period were a necessary evil given the precarious position they previously found themselves in.

Ahead of this weekend’s Scottish Junior Cup last-32 showdown with bitter rivals Auchinleck Talbot, he said: “Without a doubt, the cup run has helped, but we’ve actually had three or four friendlies in that period as well.

“The idea was to get games under our belt, get organised, and work on the players’ fitness as well. It’s not that they weren’t fit, I just wanted to increase the level of fitness so they are running for 90 minutes.

“When I came into Cumnock my task was to ensure we are not in the relegation play-offs given the position we were in. A team like Cumnock shouldn’t be in that position so that was the number one goal, to make sure we finish as high up the league as possible.

“But a cup run can be great and I am sure a win over Talbot on Saturday would do wonders for our league form.

He added: “The quality of player has always been here, it was maybe just a confidence issue.

“We’ve scored a lot of goals which gives confidence to the strikers. We’ve had umpteen different scorers, it’s not as if it has been shared between two or three players.

“Scoring goals seemed to be an issue before we took over but we seem to have dealt with that.”

Ex-Motherwell and St Mirren forward Leonard faced a tough start to his Townhead Park tenure when he tackled Talbot in his first game in charge.

The October league encounter ended in a 3-2 win for Tommy Sloan’s title chasers. While the defeat still rankles, Leonard says his side go into this weekend’s cup clash in much more confident mood having finally found their shooting boots.

He said: “Since that game three of the players in that squad are no longer with us and we’ve got a few new faces in as well so it’s a different team, we are in a far better position.

“The fact we are playing at home on the artificial surface also gives us an edge but Talbot are an experienced side and Tommy Sloan is a fantastic junior football manager, which cannot be ignored.

“We’ve missed guilt-edged chances against Talbot this season. Now, though, we are finishing the chances we are creating which has made a big difference and led to a more confident squad this time around.”

The derby has been fiercely contested over the years, with the rivalry keenly felt by supporters and players from the neighbouring towns.

As a result, Leonard insists Saturday's team talk takes care of itself.

He continued: “The team talk is easy as the game motivates the players. Sometimes they can get a wee bit overexcited so you have to channel the aggression properly in games like this.

“The main thing for me on Saturday is how we counteract Talbot’s strengths and make the most of our own.

“We know it is going to be a tough, tough game but certainly we go into this game a lot more confident.”