Sammy and Yogi!: The First Division Preview

DESPITE the reputation the First Division has of being the most competitive senior league in the country, there is a paradigm that seems unbreakable – the part-time teams will always finish behind full-time teams. Looking at the merits of the respective squads, it is difficult to look beyond this as a projection for the season ahead.

The ten-team league could almost easily be divided in two – one section would contain the sides with genuine aspirations of winning the championship; the other would feature the part-time teams intent on consolidating their league status. While Partick Thistle, Morton, Livingston and Falkirk will all have an eye on promotion, Cowdenbeath, Dumbarton and late-to-the-party Airdrie United, the sides promoted from the Second Division, will be doing exceptionally well to avoid immediate relegation. Such is the uneven nature of the league.

One theme that runs throughout the squads – particularly those with an eye on the title – is an increasing reliance on youngsters, whether they have been brought through the clubs’ respective youth systems or cherry-picked from other teams where they could not find establish a first team role.

The division might not be absolutely cut-throat from top to bottom, but the mini-leagues within and the outcomes thereof will remain fascinating.

 

AIRDRIE UNITED

Players in:

  • Kenny Arthur (Grimsby Town)
  • Alan Cook (Stirling Albion)
  • Paul Di Giacomo (Greenock Morton)
  • Grant Evans (Greenock Morton)
  • Gavin Griffin (Partick Thistle)
  • Marc Warren (Sheffield United)

Players out:

  • Derek Holmes (Arbroath)
  • Phil Johnston (Dumbarton)
  • Paul Lovering (Pollok Juniors)
  • Graeme Owens
  • Jamie Stevenson (Cowdenbeath)

Airdrie United spent the majority of the season’s Second Division skirting around the playoff places until an outstanding run of results between March and April catapulted them into fourth place. Despite relegating Ayr United in the playoff semi-final, the Diamonds were brutally beaten by Dumbarton in the next round.

At the start of the summer, manager Jimmy Boyle was assembling a side capable of another assault on promotion, but following Rangers’ demotion to the Third Division, Airdrie, once again, were shunted up a league after the resultant reshuffle. Manager Jimmy Boyle’s objectives have changed: he must now build a team to avoid an immediate return to the Second Division.

Boyle has made a number of changes to the senior members his squad. The long-serving Paul Lovering, more pantomime villain than player in recent years, has finally been put out to grass at Pollok Juniors, while the acquisition of experienced goalkeeper Kenny Arthur will offset the loss of the departing Grant Adam

The midfield lacks creativity following Jamie Stevenson’s defection to Cowdenbeath, and it remains to be seen how Sean Lynch and Nathan Blockley will adapt to the environs of Scotland’s second tier. Jamie Bain and Willie McLaren are capable wingers and will be expected to provide guile and ingenuity on the flanks.

Airdrie’s season might depend on the form of Ryan Donnelly. The young forward scored a remarkable 18 league goals before February, but looked jaded and wearisome for the remainder of the season. His performance in the playoff final was execrable, and some quarters even argued the player’s head was turned following a mid-season trial at Wigan Athletic. As well as Donnelly, the goal-scoring burden will be spread among John Boyle and the returning Paul Di Giacomo.

An unexpected 1-0 victory over Hamilton in the Ramsdens Cup will have been tempered by Saturday’s elimination from the League Cup to Queen’s Park. As the season progresses, it could be a direct battle between Airdrie and Dumbarton to avoid finishing the season in last place. CGT

Thanks go to Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser’s Colin Paterson for assistance with this section. Colin can be found on Twitter here.

 

COWDENBEATH

Players in:

  • Ruben Garcia Rey (Torremolinos)
  • Jamie Stevenson (Airdrie United)

Players out:

  • Youssef Bejaoui (Berwick Rangers)
  • Steven Bennett
  • Paul Byrne
  • Dene Droudge (Berwick Rangers)
  • Danny Mackay
  • Zane Powell
  • Jon Robertson (St Mirren)
  • Anesu Tabengwa

Last season was an unqualified success for Cowdenbeath. After clambering to the summit of the Second Division in mid-October, they remained in the position for the rest of the campaign and secured the championship by eight points.

Player-manager Colin Cameron has retained the majority of last year’s squad, many of whom are well-versed in First Division football after the 2010-11 season. John “Chopper” Armstrong and Joe Mbu are robust defenders, but the pair might struggle to contain the division’s more pacey and direct attackers. Kenny Adamson was the Second Division’s finest full-back in 2011-12 and will hope to repeat his good form.

The loss of the talented midfielder Jon Robertson to St Mirren will be keenly felt, as his dynamism and verve was central to the team’s superb season. The classy Jamie Stevenson, signed from Airdrie United, will be expected to provide craft from midfield but should not be considered as a direct replacement to Robertson. Cameron, meanwhile, still plays with intelligence and poise, but his age (he turns 40 in October) might limit his level of influence on on-field matters. Big things are expected of the exotic Ruben Garcia Rey.

Further forward, Marc McKenzie continues to mature and has quietly developed into one of the most threatening wingers in the SFL, but on the whole, the squad is light in attack – unless Cameron can draft in reinforcements, a heavy burden will fall on the shoulders of strikers Lewis Coult and Greg Stewart.

Early results have been wildly indifferent: Cowdenbeath narrowly progressed to the second round of the Ramsdens Cup against Alloa after a penalty shootout, but lost to an unfancied Montrose side in the League Cup the following week. Despite this – and given the relative paucity of immediate competition to avoid relegation – Cameron should look to consolidate their First Division status this term. CGT

Thanks go to Murray Hughes for his assistance with this section. Murray can be found on Twitter here.

 

DUMBARTON

Players in:

  • Garry Fleming (Irvine Meadow)
  • Ross Forsyth (Greenock Morton)
  • Andy Graham (Greenock Morton)
  • Phil Johnston (Airdrie United)
  • Jim Lister (Brechin City)
  • Steven McDougall (Dunfermline)

Players out:

  • Ryan Borris (Stranraer)
  • Kieran Brannan
  • Robert Connelly
  • Ally Graham (Clydebank)
  • David Gray
  • Adam Monaghan
  • Arlan Mpata
  • Paul Nugent
  • Graeme Ramage (Annan Athletic)

In the New Year, Dumbarton strung together an outrageous run of results and quietly crept up the Second Division to finish the season in third place. So impressive was their form over the latter part of the season that had the league campaign begun in the January, Dumbarton would have topped the table. Alan Adamson’s side then went on to eliminate Arbroath and then Airdrie United in the playoffs, earning promotion to the First Division for the first time since 1996.

Dumbarton are predicted to struggle over the course of the season, such is the chasm between the Second and First  Division, part-time and full-time football. Adamson has diligently retained last season’s key players including centre-back Alan Lithgow and the elusive midfielder Scott Agnew. The pair were two of the Second Division’s outstanding performers in 2011-12 and will be expected to carry over their fine form.

Ross Forsyth and Andy Graham, both signed from Morton, should provide ballast in defence, although the former has struggled badly for form over last few seasons. The acquisition of attacker Stephen McDougall from Dunfermline, meanwhile, should relieve the creative burden from Agnew.

The signing of the much-maligned Jim Lister was perhaps one of the more eye-catching transfers of the summer. An acutely limited footballer, Lister performed poorly for Brechin City last season and many expected the player to return to the Third Division following his release from Glebe Park. Adamson’s decision to invite him to the second tier of Scottish football was quite astonishing. Lister will be expected to “put a shift in” and “get stuck in”, but anything else will be a bonus. Bryan Prunty and new signing Garry Fleming will be expected to be the Sons’ main offensive threat.

If Dumbarton can avoid finishing the campaign in ninth or tenth place, it will be a triumph. A season in the First Division may be a step too far for a squad of this calibre, however. CGT

Tell Him He's Pelé

Tell Him He's Pelé

If Tell Him He's Pelé were a boy band, they would probably be the much-missed One True Voice, both in terms of appearance and musical output.

Be first to comment