Date: 30th July 2015
WE have already looked at the Premiership, so now it is time to preview the other SPFL leagues in Scotland. This time, Calum McClurkin takes a look at League One.
Airdrieonians: Strong late push last season under Gary Bollan saw the Diamonds fall just short of the play-offs. Team towards the end of the season looked primed for a promotion push but the loss of goalkeeper Andy McNeil to Alloa, Paddy Boyle and Ross Docherty to Ayr United and the strong Luca Gasparotto is now back at parent club Rangers are huge losses. Four key members of a promising looking side gone. They have brought in Neil Parry from Albion Rovers as an able goalkeeping replacement whilst David van Zanten and Alan Lithgow have tall orders to fill the void in defence. But the Lanarkshire side do have an able development team that won the West League last season. However, this season might come too early for Airdrie. And another near miss is on the cards.
Albion Rovers: Darren Young’s side won many plaudits on the pitch as League Two champions but have lost more players than they have brought in. The biggest acquisition may be off the park. Experienced Billy Stark comes to Cliftonhill to assist Young, and his knowledge could prove essential for Rovers’ survival bid. It will be a tough ask. Losing Parry (Airdrie) and Mark McGuigan (Stranraer) to League One rivals is a blow considering how key they were last season. Look better equipped in attack than defence, particularly after signing forwards Andy Barrowman and Scott McBride to join the likes of Ally Love and John Gemmell, but on paper this squad will find it tough to survive.
Ayr United: A poor season last year. The Honest Men scraped to safety last term under Ian McCall, who now has an opportunity to build his team after taking over in late January. He recruited early by raiding Brechin and Airdrieonians of their prized duos. Alan Trouten was the Glebe Park’s sides top scorer and Gerry McLauchlan has been a stalwart in their defence. Left-back of the season Boyle and talented holding midfielder Docherty are good steals from Airdrieonians. Ex-Hibs striker Ross Caldwell adds some much needed firepower upfront and Greg Fleming is the good solid goalkeeper that Ayr have been crying out for for some time. United are shaping up for a much-improved season and a possible promotion push.
Brechin City: A club in a heavy transition. Lost manager Ray McKinnon to Raith over the summer and replaced him with Darren Dods from Angus rivals Forfar as player/manager. Dods can still do a job defensively but Brechin have lost talisman Bobby Barr to Morton and seen the spine of the consistent League One side be torn away with the exits of a clutch of reliable first-team players. Dods has brought in former Rangers defender Ross Perry and ex-Alloa full-back Jonathan Tiffoney. They still have Graeme Smith as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. A massive challenge lies ahead for Dods in his first managerial job, and safety may well satisfy Brechin this year.
Cowdenbeath: Another team that have had their fair amount of changes. Relegated from the Championship last season, Jimmy Nicholl left the Blue Brazil and was replaced by Colin Nish as player/manager. They have also lost numerous players. Most notably, Nat Wedderburn to Inverness Caley Thistle. The loan spell of Celtic midfielder John Herron has ended and another key midfielder Jon Robertson has also left (to Stenhousemuir). Cowden have also lost goalkeeper Robbie Thomson to Queen of the South. Nish has brought in Greig Spence who will score goals at this level and the highly regarded defender Bradley Donaldson from Livingston. The concern lies in midfield but they should have enough about them to mount a play-off challenge.
Dunfermline Athletic: Favourites last season but only finished a dismal seventh. Last term was a disaster that simply cannot be repeated. The Pars recruited former Killie boss Allan Johnston as the man to get them out of the third tier who effectively showed how to win this league convincingly with Queen of the South there years ago. Fans’ favourite Joe Cardle is back at East End Park, the defence has been shored up with the additions of Livvy pair Jason Talbot and Callum Fordyce, and pre-season has gone well. With Michael Moffat and Faissal El Bakhtaoui amongst the goals again, they look a formidable preposition. Johnston axed 18 players in a remarkable summer cull. It may pay dividends. Dunfermline cannot afford to slip up this season and it is hard to imagine that they will this time around.
Forfar Athletic: A sensational season that just saw Dick Campbell’s team fall an agonising play-off short of promotion. It was a big and largely unexpected shot at the Championship. The Loons will struggle to repeat the feat. Dods could not say no to his chance at Brechin whilst defensive partner Stuart Malcolm has left for Stenhousemuir. Deadly Dale Hilson is a crushing loss to Queen of the South. Only four players have joined Forfar’s small but well-drilled unit. And with an impressive crop of youngsters propping up the first team they could spring another big surprise, but like Airdrieonians have lost plenty of key men.
Peterhead: A season of consolidation in League One was well received at Balmoor. Another with a small but closely-knit team. The signing of Shane Sutherland will add a creative spark to a team that play an attractive brand of football, and Nathan Blackley from Airdrie will add plenty of steel and bite in midfield. Lost a few players from that department which leaves their skinny squad even more shallow than before which will give them a lot of struggles in the crunch part of the season. Lost goals in David Cox who was a match winner last season. Their rock solid home form and the ever-dangerous and goal hungry Rory McAllister should be enough to keep their heads above water.
Stenhousemuir: Survived last season courtesy of the relegation play-off win over Queen’s Park. Brown Ferguson has overhauled his Warriors. Key man Colin McMenamin stays, and is joined by Malcolm (Forfar), Robertson (Cowdenbeath), midfielder Stephen Stirling (Stranraer), striker Allan Smith (Dunfermline) and well travelled but effective forward Jon McShane (East Fife). These good inclusions are balanced out with the losses of Fleming to (Ayr), defender Alan Lithgow (Airdrie) and the loss of Paul McMullan who was on loan from Celtic and is now with St Mirren. Stenny have plenty of forward options but look a little rocky elsewhere. It could be another slog against the drop at Ochilview.
Stranraer: Another whom have lost their manager. Highly-rated Stevie Aitken worked wonders with the Blues until he left in the summer for Dumbarton. Just missing out on promotion in each of the last two seasons, Stranraer turned to former Ayr United boss Brian Reid to achieve what he did at Somerset Park twice – gain promotion to the Championship. It will be a tall order. Aitken has not been the only big departure from Stair Park. The small hard working unit that was at the root of Stranraer’s success has been dismantled. Young goalkeeper David Mitchell has joined Dundee, club Player of the Year Willie Gibson followed his boss to Dumbarton as did the dynamic midfielder Grant Gallagher, skipper and instrumental defender Frank McKeown has joined Morton, left-back Jackson Longridge has gone to Livingston whilst both wingers Sean Winter and Stephen Stirling have gone. All of these were first-team players. Reid has brought in a few players. Most notably, Paul Carney from Kilmarnock in an excellent coup. Keeping hold of Craig Malcolm and Jamie Longworth as their strike duo was essential. Reid is a canny enough operator and with his contacts, Stranraer can rebuild successfully.
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