IN his 16 years at Auchinleck Talbot, Tommy Sloan has achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve. Six Scottish Junior Cup victories, five West Premier Division titles - no manager in the Scottish junior game has a more illustrious resume. But if all goes to plan, the 54-year-old also knows that 90 minutes against his former team Ayr United at the homespun surroundings of Talbot’s Beechwood Park in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup proper next Saturday might just top the lot. “I think in terms of a result getting a win would be up there with the best in the club’s history and the greatest in my time here,” said Sloan. “It would be great for the boys to have a win to remember, but if we got any sort of decent result that would be big.”

There will be a novelty factor for the grandees of the junior game to go in against Ian McCall’s high-flying Ayr side without the usual expectation on their shoulders, although try telling that to the club’s supporters. Not only were there cheers on the Auchinleck team coach as they found out their dream draw on the way home from Fraserburgh in the previous round, at the very least, you sense the club’s supporters expect their team to give their more-vaunted county rivals a bloody nose. “The shoe is on the other foot in terms of pressure for us in this game,” admits Sloan. “People outside here won’t expect us to go through, but our fans might not think like that. They will want a performance and will be hoping for a result.”

Tradition seeps out of this proud little club. While sceptical at boardroom level about the merits of joining the senior ranks, they never gave a second thought to the notion of moving the tie to another venue in Ayrshire capable of holding a bigger support. Around 4,000 will cram into Beechwood Park for the game, around 1,700 of them in the colours of Ayr.

With the small matter of today’s Ardagh West of Scotland Cup tie against historic rivals Cumnock to keep the players’ minds off things, Sloan will make sure to remind his players that they can’t “look after themselves” when the dust is flying in order to wrap themselves in cotton wool for the Scottish Cup.

“Playing Ayr on TV is a huge occasion for everyone here and I am well aware of that,” said Sloan. “I can’t have players who decide to look after themselves against Cumnock because they are worried about getting injured for the Ayr match. I have stressed that to them.

"It is a big day for everyone connected with Auchinleck but so is the derby and that’s the focus first,” he added. “We have to win the Cumnock game and that would give us confidence for next week. We would much rather face Ayr after a win than a defeat that’s for sure.

"Ayr are a better side than us and they are up challenging at the top of the Championship for a reason. But I know we can play above the levels we play and we have shown that already. We played Cove Rangers, who are a good side, and got past them as well as Fraserburgh. We have raised our game before and we can do it again. Raising it to Ayr’s level is a tougher ask, but there will be a lot of effort in to try and do that.”

Sloan spent three seasons at Ayr in the early 1980s, a period which ended with the club being relegated into the old second division. But he is far from the only man with Ayr United connections in the squad: veteran full back Willie Lyle played there for years, and Mark Shankland (no relation to Ayr strike Lawrence) is still the Somerset Park side’s youngest-ever player. Gordon Pope, who ‘scored’ the last-minute disallowed equaliser which almost earned Talbot a historic replay against Hearts after an epic Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle in 2012, moved to Somerset Park for a year before being transferred back.

“We have a few boys who have connections with Ayr, as I do,” says Sloan. “It is a cracking tie for us and we were all delighted with it. I have to think a little differently to the players because I need to plan how we might get a result out of the game. I don’t worry about the money we might get in from a game like this, I just think about the result and performance.

“I had a look at Ayr when they played at Queen of the South and I came away very impressed,” he added. “Queens had to sit in because Ayr were that good. They dominated the game but it finished all square. They have a mix of youth and experience, and the boys up front, Michael Moffat and Lawrence Shankland are grabbing all the headlines. Normally here we have one way of playing and that’s something I maybe have to ponder, how we approach the game next Saturday to get a result. Usually we attack teams, but we might have to do something different. But we won’t sit in and let Ayr score and then have to change our plan because of that. We have to play our own game.”

Sloan goes way back with McCall – then Partick Thistle manager, McCall signed Kris Doolan from him at Kello Rovers – but hopes to have fonder memories on Saturday night than from the meeting with Hearts. “I remember the game against Hearts against Tynecastle really well, and we still have one or two of the boys here from that team,” he says. “In all honesty I don’t think we played as well as we would have liked that day. We dug in and had one or two chances ourselves and we scored a goal that was disallowed – I try and forget that but I can’t. Andy Leishman, our goalkeeper, had a brilliant match that day, but I would rather the attacks were stopped before it gets to him. I came away, not disappointed in a 1-0 defeat, but we could have acquitted ourselves better. Now I am just hoping that isn’t the case come next Saturday night.”