Last year’s inaugural League 2 was, by and large, the most exciting division in the country, with the majority of teams duking it out for the play-off places well into the New Year. This season sees the ante upped as, for the first time, the trapdoor has opened and created the potential for one of the ten teams to drop into the Highland or the Lowland League. Whichever side finishes bottom will play out a winner-takes-all contest against the victors of the play-off between the two divisions (so long as the challengers meet the Scottish FA’s bronze licensing criteria). Its advent has been a long time coming: for too long now, the basement division – and indeed, the SFL and the new SPFL as a whole – has resembled a stuffy closed shop where mediocrity goes without consequence. This is now no longer the case.
Examining the league as a whole, there is a definite sense of a division within a division. At this embryonic stage it feels as though six teams have the potential to compete at the top end of the table, while the rest scramble to avoid finishing in tenth. (It is curious to note that, other than Annan Athletic’s Jim Chapman, every manager in the division is beginning their first full season in charge of their respective clubs.)
Of the teams looking to win the division, East Fife perhaps appear to be the most capable. Gary Naysmith has completely overhauled last season’s dismal squad and upgraded them with a better calibre of player; he now boasts one of the most fearsome sides in the league. Albion Rovers, monied after their remarkable Scottish Cup run, have invested in proven quality such as John Gemmell and Darren Young will be determined to improve on the previous term’s disappointing league campaign. Annan, meanwhile, hope that familiarity breeds success as their manager leads a largely unchanged squad. Clyde have the potential to do very well under Barry Ferguson, while Arbroath and Berwick Rangers are perhaps outside shouts for the final play-off place.
There is little between the teams at the other end of the table. Elgin City seem best placed to make a tilt at the division’s upper echelons but have a nasty of habit of capitulating at the most inopportune moments, while East Stirlingshire and Montrose seem rather unremarkable sides. It is difficult to know what to make of Gus MacPherson’s Queen’s Park after the summer’s transfer activity but it is surely a big gamble to recruit almost exclusively from outwith the SPFL.
The quality might not always be there but this season’s League 2 will be a competitive, entertaining beast as usual.
All previews and transfers correct as of 6 August 2014
Gary Fisher (East Fife)
John Gemmell (Stenhousemuir)
Kieran Hughes (St Mirren)
Ally Love (Annan Athletic)
Marc McKenzie (East Fife)
Ross McNeil (Stenhousemuir)
Kyle Turnbull (Falkirk)
Darren Young (Alloa Athletic – player-manager)
Ryan Donnelly (Ayr United)
Kevin Green (Arthurlie)
Barry Russell (Stranraer)
For the third consecutive season, Albion Rovers start the term with a new manager. Darren Young and his assistant Sandy Clark have replaced James Ward and are tasked with taking the club back into the third tier. Ward’s removal was controversial – the manager had agreed a new one-year contract at the beginning of April and signed a handful of players for the season ahead, only for the club to sack him nine weeks later and instate Young. Although Ward led the Vers to the Scottish Cup quarter-final, holding Rangers to a stalemate at Ibrox, the league campaign was thoroughly disappointing and well below pre-season expectations. Whether or not Ward deserved to be dismissed is open to interpretation but it was a shabby, clumsy way to treat him.
The board might have felt that opportunity to hire Young and Clark was too good to pass up. Indeed, Young’s working relationship with Paul Hartley was probably an attractive proposition to the club – he was one of Hartley’s key personnel during Alloa Athletic’s rise through the divisions and has presumably inherited his mentor’s traits. This Albion Rovers side should be fit, professional and motivated. It can only be a matter of time before the new manager – who will also take on a playing role – introduces half-time aerobic exercises and resistance running.
Young has a good squad to work with. John Gemmell, signed by Ward on a two-year contract, is the Rovers’ marquee signing and the burly forward joins the team for a third time after a frustrating conclusion to his spell at Stenhousemuir. At his best, he is one of the lower leagues’ most complete strikers and should be looking to score a minimum of 15 goals over the season. A notoriously cantankerous individual, he has already expressed his satisfaction to return to Cliftonhill. Gemmell is joined by Ross McNeil, an intelligent, elusive player who should add an alternative dimension in attack.
In midfield, Ally Love and Gary Fisher are fine signings. The former, all beady eyes and snarling features, will bring energy and industry to the middle of the park while the latter was one of the few players to emerge from East Fife’s rotten 2013-14 campaign with any credit. Marc McKenzie, however, has seen his career steadily decline since peaking with Cowdenbeath in 2011-12 and no longer has the speed that marked him out as a youngster. Mark McGuigan might be a better option on the right of midfield in the long-term.
The new signings will play in front of a defence largely unchanged since last term. Neil Parry is general solid but prone to infrequent lapses in concentration while Ross and Mick Dunlop are handy centre-backs. There is plenty here for Young to build on.
The bounty from their Scottish Cup endeavors secured their long-term future and allowed Albion Rovers to embark on a number of kindly ventures, from donating £10,000 to charity to the “pay what you can” season ticket, but their immediate concern will be winning promotion. Their two cup recent matches – both against upper tier opposition, both of which went to penalties – were relatively impressive spectacles but it still remains to be seen how capable a manager Young can be. Anything less than a top four finish would be a considerable disappointment. CGT
Derek Carcary (Brechin City)
Steven Logan (Newcastle United)
Ryan McStay (Portadown)
Kenny Arthur (retired)
Chris Jardine (retired)
Ally Love (Albion Rovers)
Andy Mitchell (Southport)
Daniel Orsi (Glenafton Athletic)
After a credible yet ultimately fruitless campaign last year, the onus will be on Jim Chapman to take Annan Athletic into League 1 this time around. The Galabankies spent the majority of last season in second place but they were unable to take their decent form into the play-offs and were comprehensively dismantled by Stirling Albion, losing 4-8 on aggregate in the semi-final. It was an inglorious manner to conclude the year.
Disruption to the squad has been minimal, with Chapman adopting almost a one-in, one-out policy. Of the departures, Chris Jardine and Kenny Arthur will both be sorely missed around the club after their respective retirements. Jardine spent more than ten years with Annan and was generally well regarded around the Galabank; Arthur, meanwhile, was central to their fine displays last term and kept clean sheets in almost a third of his team’s league matches. Alex Mitchell, whom Arthur displaced when he joined in 2013, should return to the starting XI a better goalkeeper. Elsewhere, Andy Mitchell’s inevitable return to full-time football with Southport is an obvious blow.
Chapman has offset his losses by continuing to piece together Dumbarton’s title winning side of 2008-09 with the recruitment Derek Carcary (who joins Iain Chisholm and Martin McNiff) and Ryan McStay, who also played with the Sons between 2009 and 2011. In theory at least, both players represent sound business but their signings come with caution. Carcary marries unadulterated pace to underrated finishing and is a dangerous threat when deployed as an orthodox striker or out on the flank. However, any discussions involving the player almost always come with caveat “…if he can stay fit.” Carcary is a perpetual injury concern and made only 60 league appearances, more than half as a substitute, in his three seasons with Brechin City.
McStay, meanwhile, appears to have lost his way after leaving Albion Rovers – his year with Ayr United was uniformly miserable while subsequent spells with Irvine Meadow and then Portadown were little more than indifferent stopovers. Chapman should know how to get the best from the player and it is likely he will be stationed at the base of midfield and allowed to pick his passes and he pleases.
The new players will support a strong core. Retaining Kenny Mackay was a fine move and the striker will be central to Annan’s prospects. His first season in senior football was tremendous and the 23-year-old scored 14 times in 34 games. Mackay’s prowess saw him spend the early part of the summer linked with moves to full-time clubs, most notably Greenock Morton, but the transfer did not materialise and he subsequently signed on again with Annan. A powerful, bustling centre-forward, Mackay should link well with Carcary and David Hopkirk, who missed a large part of last season through injury.
There is no shame in losing out to sides like Heart of Midlothian and Dunfermline Athletic in the opening rounds of the cups. Annan are unlikely to come up against anything as fearsome in League 2 and the weekend’s match at Albion Rovers will act as a far more appropriate barometer with which to gauge their prospects. At the very least, Annan certainly seem capable enough of finishing in the top four again. CGT
David Crawford (Stirling Albion)
Adam Hunter (Ayr United)
Craig Johnstone (East Fife)
Scott McBride (East Fife)
Simon Murray (Dundee Violet)
Kieran Stewart (St Johnstone)
Michael Wallace (Lochore Juniors)
Mark Whatley (Spartans)
Ross Chisholm (Hurlford United)
Alan Cook (East Fife)
Colin Hamilton (Brechin City)
Ryan McGeever (Falkirk – end of loan)
Leighton McIntosh (Dundee – end of loan)
Arbroath’s first campaign in the SPFL’s bottom division for four seasons should turn out to be an interesting one. Following Paul Sheerin’s surprise move to coach Aberdeen’s development squad in June, Allan Moore has the opportunity to redeem himself after playing a significant part in Greenock Morton’s relegation last season.
So far, the signs haven’t been that great for Moore’s side, with a couple of thumpings in the club’s first two competitive matches meaning that they are out of both the Challenge Cup and League Cup before the league season has started. Mitigating circumstances must of course be given for losing against teams from the Championship and the Premiership, but the 1-2 defeat at Hamilton Academical could have been much worse. The silver lining is that the Red Lichties scored a couple of goals from only three shots on target between the two matches, even if both were last minute consolations.
Moore’s biggest challenge this season appears to be drilling a defence that, on paper, looks weaker than last season’s – and last season’s defensive unit conceded over two goals per game and were statistically the worst of League 1. Moore has his work cut out to build the confidence and coax the best out of a clutch of defenders in their early twenties, with Kevin Nicoll’s experience key to helping them out when sitting in front of the centre of the backline. The capture of goalkeeper David Crawford from Stirling Albion seems to be one of Moore’s best moves so far and will go some way to helping matters, but Arbroath will probably miss the likes of Alex Keddie in winning his share of aerial balls around the 12-yard spot. It would be a huge boon if Ricky Little – who spent more than six months of the campaign absent through injury – can recover his Queen’s Park form from between 2011 and 2013.
Among Moore’s signings is 20-year-old Ross Fisher but he is not any better than, say, Kieran McWalter who has shown much potential in the U-19s team. However, such is the way with an incoming manager that it can take time to realise that new signings aren’t always the improvement and McWalter and his colleague Christopher Scott should see a reasonable amount of game time this season if they don’t go out on loan.
Further forward, Arbroath are a pretty respectable team. Bobby Linn will create chances and score goals, Paul McManus should continue his good form from earlier in the year, and Simon Murray’s pace will pose problems to the rest of the league. From middle to front, Abroath have enough about them to warrant a place in the top half of the table but they must improve on their recent defensive record. Beginning the league campaign away to Berwick Rangers will be the acid test and could set the tone for the season. JAM
Liam Dunn (Cowdenbeath)
David Gold (Hibernian)
Dean Horribine (Hibernian)
Scott Maxwell (East Stirlingshire)
Dougie Brydon (Duns)
Ross Drummond (Dunfermline Athletic – end of loan)
Michael Dunlop (Forfar Athletic – end of loan)
Kenny O’Brien (Vale of Leithen)
Berwick Rangers will shortly begin their seventh straight campaign in the bottom flight. Now might be as good a time as any to reach promotion to League 1, given that so many of their competitors are seemingly at a similar level to them, but does the squad have enough quality throughout it to maintain a challenge?
That answer would have to be no, at this current point. As ironic as it is for a team that potentially has so many goal-scorers among the team, the Black and Gold in their current form do not create enough opportunities to score. Colin Cameron has assembled a reasonably cohesive unit, with a midfield that can certainly keep the ball, but there does not appear to be enough potential penetration in the side to serve Scott Dalziel, Darren Lavery or Andrew Russell.
Berwick have suited a five-man midfield for at least a couple of years now, with Cameron following Ian Little’s possession-based approach, but maybe he ought to be trying to shape the team around having two centre-forwards playing in their preferred position instead of one. Without doubt the side’s strengths lie in how clinical their front men can be, so why not try to make more of it?
The problem with that would be that Cameron so far has a top-heavy squad that is loaded with tidy attacking midfielders – as well as the three quality centre-forwards – and he needs to find a shape to fit them all in. David Gold and Paul Willis represent the pick of the signings on that front, but are complemented by Lee and Paul Currie who are all happiest with the ball. Cameron’s biggest challenge is getting the right blend in midfield to ensure that defences can be punctured and, on the face of it, having Steven Notman (or Cameron himself) to protect Lee Currie’s playmaking and Gold’s vertical runs might bring the right balance to supporting any of the strikers.
There are more issues further back, with the increasingly excellent Stephen Tulloch needing an established partner beside him in the absence of outgoing Dougie Brydon. Devon Jacobs is good going forward but can be vulnerable in defending the far post, while at left-back Scott Maxwell isn’t the long-term solution and would be more comfortable further forward with a full-back playing behind him instead.
Cameron could make it all click, but it’s difficult to see what his overall gameplan is at this stage. Berwick will probably need the rest of the transfer window for us to fully appreciate how they will fare over the length of the season. The talent is there, it’s just a question of making a team out of it. JAM
Scott Durie (East Fife)
Barry Ferguson (Blackpool – player-manager)
David Gray (Montrose)
Scott McManus (Vale of Clyde)
David Sinclair (BÍ/Bolungarvík)
Neil Janczyk (Penicuik Athletic)
Kieran MacDonald (Hamilton Academical)
Stefan McCluskey (Greenock Morton)
Clyde surprised many last year with an excellent league campaign that saw them finish in the play-off places. The loss to East Fife over two legs in the play-off semi-final could not dampen the clear progress that the club made on the pitch in 12 months, but can they repeat the same?
A lot of talk has been about Barry Ferguson becoming player-manager after Jim Duffy absconded to Greenock Morton. Indeed, the consensus has been that if Ferguson included himself in the first XI then he would almost certainly still have enough about him to dictate proceedings against almost every opposition midfield – something that would be enough to offset any presumed managerial shortcomings. However, having not taken part in any pre-season games himself and just having had an operation, Ferguson will have to rely on his tactical acumen alone for a while just yet.
That might not actually be a problem. Judging from their fixtures in the cup ties, there has been no shyness in playing on the front foot. Captain John Sweeney appears to be improving with every season and one can only imagine how smart a partnership he might strike next to Ferguson later in the year, if the manager eventually picks himself. Between Brian McQueen and David Marsh, the Bully Wee have two centre-backs who are quite comfortable passing the ball on a slick surface, which is just as well for Ferguson’s slightly more progressive style in comparison to Duffy’s side last season.
The question of who will play in the front four – and where – will fascinate at the start of the league season. Kevin Watt looked sharp but failed to hold his own up front last term, but Ferguson has moved him to the right side of the band of three and the player looked very dangerous against Ayr United in the Challenge Cup, with some exciting wing play to set up the team’s first goal. On the other flank is Scott Ferguson, so often a source of goals last season and he will have licence to cut infield even more to get into scoring positions. David Sinclair holds his position between the lines well and offers a different kind of number 10 than Stefan McCluskey last season, while Walter Smith’s nephew Scott McManus has shown glimpses of a predatory instinct that was lacking from a centre-forward at the club last season. That would leave Stuart McColm – arguably Clyde’s best player last term – waiting for his chance to impress.
Clyde might find themselves carved open by teams, with their full-backs capable of pushing too high at times, but it would be a surprise not to see them in the play-offs if not challenging for the title. With the players seemingly responding very well to Ferguson’s training methods, there is much to be positive about the team on the park and there could be another enjoyable season ahead for the supporters. JAM
Jamie Beaton (Hibernian)
Ross Campbell (Forfar Athletic)
Alan Cook (Arbroath)
Allan Fleming (Kelty Hearts)
Caolan McAleer (Partick Thistle)
Jon McShane (Celtic Nation)
Ewan Moyes (Brechin City)
Fraser Mullen (Raith Rovers)
Scott Smith (Dumbarton)
Allan Walker (Brechin City)
Liam Buchanan (Alloa Athletic)
Scott Durie (Clyde)
Gary Fisher (Albion Rovers)
Stephen Hughes (Dundee – end of loan)
Bruce Inkango; Craig Johnstone (Arbroath)
Marc McKenzie (Albion Rovers)
Joe Mbu (Edinburgh City)
Scott McBride (Arbroath)
Stephen O’Neill (Aberdeen – end of loan)
Greg Paterson (Stirling Albion)
Johnny Stewart (Bonnyrigg Rose)
Gary Thom (Linlithgow Rose)
After last season’s apathetic capitulation, Gary Naysmith will be expected to return East Fife to League 1 at the first time of asking. Immediate promotion is required, ideally as champions but via the play-offs would be acceptable. Anything less would be a majorly frustrating.
The Fifers’ summer transfer activity has been promising and the squad looks in far better shape now than it did 12 months ago. Last year, Lee Murray’s takeover was warmly greeted and accompanied by a flamboyant promotional video, but all the fanfare and panache masked the fact that their recruitment was ultimately flawed. Sure, they went on to sign some talented players but many were either past their best or lacked the stomach for the fight and meekly accepted relegation. Sixteen players left the club over the past two months, the highest number of departures in the division, and Naysmith has since upgraded almost every position. Pound for pound, the manager has assembled the best squad in the division.
Almost the entire defensive unit has been retooled, with centre-back Stevie Campbell one of the few survivors of the summer’s cull. He will be paired alongside Ewan Moyes, signed from Brechin City. Injuries curtailed Moyes’s participation last year but when fit and in form, he should be a sturdy defender at this level. Scott Smith and Fraser Mullen both come in at full-back, with the latter being one of the division’s more eye-catching recruits. After an indifferent six months at Raith Rovers, he has the potential to rekindle his career at New Bayview.
Further forward, Alan Cook was a flickering presence at Arbroath last term while Caolan McAleer, another signing coup, played a key role in Airdrieonians’ resurgence in the second half of the season during an eight-month loan spell. Jon McShane has never really lived up to his early promise but is a muscular, athletic striker and should link well with Kevin Smith in attack. Although the pre-season fixtures yielded just one goal, scoring should not be a problem in this side.
For all the improvements, there are one or two areas of concern. The acquisition of Allan Walker was strange given his level of underperformance at Brechin City last term. The midfielder can be a tidy player but is often a passive presence – it would be incorrect to assume he can make an impact in League 2 because he’s played at a higher level in the past.
There are also some doubts over Naysmith’s managerial acumen. Despite the club briefly jolting into life immediately after his promotion to the post in October and again at spells in the play-offs, he was never able to sufficiently rouse his side and move them away from the foot of the table, either through his man-management ability or his tactical intricacies. Of course, many of the players were just not good enough but the manager must take his responsibility in the team’s downfall. How he acquits himself to keeping the team towards the top of the table will be curious to observe.
The Fifers were deserved winners over Forfar Athletic in their Challenge Cup first round contest – no mean feat given how highly rated Dick Campbell’s team are this season – and were unfortunate to lose out to Craig Malcolm’s late goal at Stranraer and Kevin Smith’s dismissal before the hour-mark surely proved a factor. They begin their league campaign in a relatively straightforward manner with games against Elgin City and Berwick Rangers and should have the wherewithal to overcome them to move – and stay – at the top of the table. CGT
Richie Barnard (Camelon Juniors)
Steven Brisbane (Falkirk)
Alan Deans (Dumbarton)
Jay Doyle (Hibernian)
Ross Gilmour (Dundee United)
Connor Greene (Falkirk)
Lloyd Kinnaird (Stranraer)
Neil McCabe (Forfar Athletic)
David McKenna (Stranraer)
Paul McMullan (Elgin City)
David Niven (Elgin City)
Billy Vidler (Raith Rovers)
Rhys Devlin (Arthurlie)
Michael Herd (Spartans)
Ricki Lamie (Airdrieonians – end of loan)
Scott Maxwell (Berwick Rangers)
Paul Quinn (Cumnock)
Iain Thomson (Spartans)
East Stirlingshire begin the new season a little hungover as they still come to terms with the previous campaign. Last season, the Shire could have secured a top four placing but quietly ended with a lacklustre mid-table finish instead. John Coughlin’s side sat at the division’s summit for the first 12 weeks of the year but the manager’s inability to address their soft-centeredness and their obvious lack of a goal threat saw them trickle down the table before disappearing into inconsequence. Coughlin subsequently left the club and described his three-years in charge as “a waste”.
Craig Tully, who played with the Shire between 2008 and 2011, was appointed manager and will have been instructed to maintain the team’s general upward curve while integrating a greater number of youth players into the matchday squad. A number of last season’s key players have moved on – the versatile Scott Maxwell has joined Berwick Rangers, while Iain Thomson returned to Spartans after discovering his release from the club via a statement on their website – and been replaced an indifferent looking troupe.
Much will be expected from David McKenna. The striker – who last played at this level in 2005-06 during a loan spell with Cowdenbeath – arrives after a frustrating season with Stranraer that saw him dropped in favour of the prolific Jamie Longworth and Martin Grehan. McKenna is many things: he is comfortable both inside and outside of the box; clever with the ball at his feet; and, most importantly, he is his side’s only credible goal threat. A lack of senior options – Kevin Turner and Paul Quinn have left the club – sees the callow Billy Vidler as the only real alternative. Elsewhere, Richie Barnard should be an upgrade on Grant Hay and Craig Gordon in goal and Lloyd Kinnaird is a competent full-back for League 2 level.
The recruitment of Paul McMullan and David Niven in particular seem odd given how poorly the pair performed in an erratic Elgin City side last term. Niven might have a bright personality but he is often haphazard, defensively naive and, for someone as experienced, has a strange tendency to get drawn towards the ball. Connor Greene, meanwhile, is unlikely ever to displace Michael Bolochoweckyj or Chris Townsley at centre-back in the long-term and has so far shown little aptitude for the role in his two appearances.
Indeed, recent results have been disappointing and it would take the most stoic of supporters not to be anxious after conceding 11 goals in two matches. The Shire were actually far closer to Falkirk than the 1-7 score-line suggested and they held them at bay for the best part of an hour until young goalkeeper Connor Shaw capitulated. However, the same cannot be said about the weekend’s defeat to Ayr United, and the team looked ragged and misshapen and unprepared for the season ahead.
Examining the squads, the Shire look like one of the better clubs that are expected to finish in the lower echelons of the table but nothing can be taken for granted. Tully’s side begin the season with matches against Montrose and Elgin City and both should offer an indication as to just what this side is made of. CGT
Matthew Cooper (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)
Gordon Finlayson (Ross County)
Michael Fraser (Ross County)
Daniel Moore (Nairn County)
Sean Crighton (Greenock Morton)
John Gibson (Dundee – end of loan)
Paul Harkins (Montrose)
Paul McMullan (East Stirlingshire)
David Niven (East Stirlingshire)
There is much to improve on Elgin City’s performances from last season. With the fourth most scored goals but comfortably the worst defensive record in the division, manger Barry Wilson has spent the summer trying to redress the balance without losing his side’s attacking instinct.
Elgin’s problem last year, more often than not, was that they found it difficult to close out matches when they were ahead. City lost 2-3 in more than a quarter of their home league fixtures – a scandalous statistic and entirely indicative of their fallibility to the sucker punch.
Wilson will therefore have concerns about his defence. In an effort to have a better drilled unit, the manager has reshaped the squad to the effect that only Graeme Beveridge and Graham Bayne are players based and training in the central belt, with the rest of the playing staff practising together closer to home. If some thought that Elgin were a side playing below their potential then it could have been that the disadvantage of having permanently separate training sessions had an impact. Either that or their defence was just as awful as it sometimes seemed.
The result of Elgin recruiting mostly local-based players is that David Niven, Paul McMullan and Sean Crighton left during the summer. The first two are entirely replaceable but Crighton’s capability of stepping out from the back could be missed. Wilson intends to play Mark Nicolson – so often a deep-lying midfielder and who has been given the captain’s armband in pre-season – as a centre-back on a more regular basis, which will compensate for Crighton leaving for Greenock Morton somewhat. There is inexperience around him, however: with Jamie Duff currently injured, 20-year-old Matthew Cooper comes from Inverness Caledonian Thistle with no experience, while full-back Gordon Finlayson’s first-team CV extends only to the short-term loan to Elgin last season. There must therefore be a concern that there will be little improvement in that department from last year.
Wilson has, nonetheless, made some terrific signings in his Highland-based transfer policy. Daniel Moore was one of the Third Division’s best players – and certainly it’s strongest winger – before he departed for Nairn County in 2013, while Archie MacPhee (currently still only registered as a trialist) is a talented footballer likely to play in central midfield and scored four goals in eight appearances in his last spell at Borough Briggs, mostly played as a left-back.
Meanwhile, it was only last season that goalkeeper Michael Fraser was playing regularly in the Premiership for Ross County before bursting his appendix and only two years since he was keeping goal in a record-breaking sequence of 40 league matches unbeaten between the First Division and the Premier League. Fraser’s capture is a real coup and could significantly improve Elgin’s prospects of avoiding finishing towards the bottom of the league.
Indeed, there are aspirations of aiming towards the play-off places, and there are certainly enough goals in the team to encourage that, but it might just be one season too soon for them. JAM
Stephen Day (Stirling Albion)
Bryan Deasley (Forfar Athletic)
Ross Graham (Dundonald Bluebell)
Paul Harkins (Elgin City)
Danny Kavanagh (Dundee)
Declan O’Kane (Dunfermline Athletic – on loan)
Stephen O’Neill (Aberdeen)
Steven Robb (Brechin City)
Craig Duguid (Formartine United)
David Gray (Clyde)
Most teams in the fourth tier have a multitude of weaknesses but have enough strengths to get by. After studying Montrose’s losses against Peterhead and Falkirk – and careful consideration must be taken in judging them against clubs from higher divisions – it is difficult to see just exactly where their qualities lie.
Goalkeeper Stuart McKenzie will be one of George Shields’s better players and was little at fault in the two defeats (aside from maybe reacting poorly to an Alex Cooper shot at short range). Keeping another eight clean sheets to match last season is not outwith his capability, but Montrose look a little short in the defence in front of him. Declan O’Kane has just arrived on loan from Dumfermline Athletic for the first half of the season and maybe he can strike a sound partnership with Alan Campbell. Young left-back Craig Bell looks a tidy passer but is already shown that he is prone to overplaying and Shields will hope this is not a recurring theme through the season.
In midfield, Ross McCord continues to be the one player with genuine quality but, at the age of 24, he really must begin to show it on a more consistent basis. With neat feet and the stamina to play an effective box-to-box midfield role, he nonetheless looked completely out of his depth against Falkirk – not that he was the only player to do appear so, but he seemed the most likely to stand up well to the test.
Despite the negativity thus far, there will be chances created by this team. Stephen Day, for instance, has the pace to beat his man and flash in a cross from the left flank. Paul Harkins, meanwhile, has the gift of being able to unlock a defence with his left foot, but will frustrate with some of his decision-making at least equally as much as he can put smiles to faces. If Harkins can form a rapport with McCord and Paul Watson (and it’s a considerable but not implausible “if”), then the midfield ought to be able to hold its own against most opposition.
Taking all of that into account, Shields will do a pretty good job to match last year’s sixth place finish, which wasn’t good enough for Stuart Garden to keep his job. It could be a long, difficult season for the Gable Endies and their manager. JAM
Vince Berry (Clydebank)
John Carter (Greenock Juniors)
Kevin Fotheringham (Bannockburn Amatuers)
Shaun Fraser (Irvine Meadow)
Ross Gallacher (Pollok Amateurs)
David MacGregor (Stranraer)
Ciaran McElroy (Clydebank)
Ross McPherson (Clydebank)
David McWilliams (Campsie Black Watch)
Darren Miller (Irvine Meadow)
William Muir (Shotts Bon Accord)
Bryan Wharton (Shotts Bon Accord)
Paul Woods (Petershill)
Lucas Birnstingl (Airdrieonians)
Eamonn Brophy (Hamilton Academical – end of loan)
James Brough (Troon)
Liam Gormley (East Kilbride)
Micheal Keenan (Irvine Meadow)
Blair Spittal (Dundee United)
Craig Sutherland (Cowdenbeath)
Joao Vitoria (East Kilbride)
Tony Wallace (Greenock Morton – end of loan)
What should we expect from Queen’s Park in 2014-15, then? Whatever happens, it certainly can’t be as bad as last term anyway. The Spiders endured one of the worst campaigns in their 147-year history and spent the entire season, from the first week to the last, propping up the division. At no point did QP ever resemble a competitive entity and they finished the year with 24 points, 12 from Elgin City in ninth. Even allowing for the drastic changes in personnel over the summer, it was an unmitigated disaster.
This time around, Gus MacPherson will have been handed the remit of immediately improving on last term and keeping the club away from the foot of the table. To do so, the manager has completely turned over his squad and recruited almost exclusively from the junior and amateur ranks. Queen’s Park are almost unrecognisable now and such is the radical overhaul that 11 of the 14 players who featured in the recent Challenge Cup first round defeat to Berwick Rangers made their competitive debuts. Many of the new signings, it must be pointed out, have no experience of senior football.
First, a word on the outgoing players. The departure of David Anderson will be keenly felt – since joining from Kilbirnie Ladeside in 2012, the midfielder has been the fourth tier’s best performer and although injury limited his influence last term, footballers of his calibre are rarely found in the basement league. Anderson was apparently close to joining Albion Rovers until James Ward’s sudden dismissal but where her goes now remains to be seen. Blair Spittal, meanwhile, has followed Barry Douglas, Andy Robertson and Aidan Connolly by joining Dundee United and the 18-year-old has impressed at right-back in their pre-season friendlies.
Of MacPherson’s imports, only David MacGregor will be familiar to the majority of observers. The defender played for a decade at Greenock Morton and spent last term in and out of the Stranraer starting XI. At Stair Park he was unable to disrupt the Frank McKeown-Scott Rumsby defensive axis but this year must take on a far greater responsibility after assuming the captaincy from Tony Quinn (who is expected to partner him at centre-back) and he will have a job on his hands in keeping the defence bolted together.
Elsewhere, it’s perhaps a little too early to offer an in-depth appraisal but a handful of players have stood out already: the wonderfully-named Vince Berry is David Anderson-lite and should bring poise and precision to the middle of the park alongside Darren Miller; the fleet-footed Ciaran McElroy is a deft and nimble winger; the stocky, powerful Ross McPherson is an upgrade on last season’s forwards; and the hirsute Bryan Wharton is a professionally trained kickboxer.
Not all have impressed. Ross Gallacher, a 29-year-old full-back signed from Pollok Amateurs, looks out of his depth at this level while Shaun Fraser must do more to curb his impudent streak – frequently ill-disciplined during his time at Irvine Meadow, the forward collected two bookings against Berwick: the first for dissent; the second for diving.
How the new players adapt to League 2 remains to be seen but MacPherson will demand his players gel and integrate with one another quickly. Their performance against Berwick showed signs of promise but it often lacked cohesion, particularly in the final third. Finishing in ninth must be seen as the season’s priority – any higher would be a bonus. CGT