Sammy and Yogi!: The First Division Preview

DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC

Players in:

  • Shaun Byrne (Leicester City)
  • Josh Falkingham (Arbroath)
  • Andy Geggan (Ayr United)
  • Stephen Husband (Blackpool)
  • Chris Kane (Heart of Midlothian)
  • Ryan Wallace (East Fife)
  • Alex Whittle (Heart of Midlothian)

Players out:

  • Paddy Boyle (Gateshead  – on loan)
  • Pat Clarke (Raith Rovers)
  • Bernardo Fernandez
  • David Graham (Greenock Morton)
  • Martin Hardie (Greenock Morton)
  • Alex Keddie (Arbroath)
  • Mark Kerr
  • Gary Mason (retired)
  • Austin McCann (Ayr United)

As always with the demoted team from the SPL, Dunfermline must be considered among the favourites to win the league. In Jim Jefferies, the Pars have without doubt the most experienced manager in the division, while players such as Andy Kirk, Andy Dowie, Paul Gallacher and Joe Cardle are already acquainted with winning the First Division – an intangible quality that was evident through Ross County’s title-winning squad in 2011-12.

In defence, Alex Keddie dropped a division to Arbroath to guarantee first team football – and possibly to concentrate on a his career as a chartered surveyor – but is more than good enough to be centre-back for most teams in the First Division this season. Then again, Jim Jeffries might be aware of the statistic that former housemates Keddie and Andy Dowie have suffered the ignominy of relegation together for three separate teams (Stranraer, Ross County, Dunfermline) and may have decided it was in his best interest to keep them apart.

Gary Mason’s retirement leaves a void of experience in the middle of the park, but defensive midfielder Andy Geggan ought to be a shrewd and affordable signing after being one of Ayr United’s few successes last season.

What would constitute success for Dunfermline this season? Promotion will be the priority, but the reduced wage bill (presumably lessened, even compared to the last time they won the league) should dampen expectations slightly. A top three finish would not be a disaster.

Dunfermline’s success will rely on two main factors. The first depends on the service to forwards Andy Kirk and new signing Ryan Wallace. If Joe Cardle can shrug off an indifferent season in the SPL to re-claim his authority as the SFL’s senior winger, certainly since Willie Gibson’s fall from grace, then Dunfermline should not be short of goals, especially if all three players remain fit. The second factor is the consistency of the new signings who, with the exception of Geggan, are no older than 21.

Regardless of anything else, it is wonderful to be able to welcome Sammy the Tammy back to the Scottish Football League. JAM

 

FALKIRK

Players in:

  • Jonathan Flynn (Ross County)
  • Andy Haworth (Bury)
  • Luke Leahy (Rugby Town)
  • Ryan McGeever (Queen’s Park)
  • Chris Smith (Ayr United)
  • Lyle Taylor (Bournemouth)

Players out:

  • Farid El Alagui (Brentford)
  • Willie Gibson (Queen of the South)
  • Mark Millar (Dundee United)
  • Tam Scobbie (St Johnstone)
  • Blair Munn (Alloa Athletic)

Falkirk could be the team to watch in the division this season. This will be the second full season for some of the “Pressley Babes” who have now long been touted to progressing to better things.

Falkirk lost two important defenders over the summer in Murray Wallace and Tam Scobbie. The former was a deceptively mature centre-back who was quickly snapped up by Huddersfield in January 2012 before being loaned back to the Bairns for the second half of 2011-12. Scobbie, meanwhile, was a converted left-back whose contract could not be renewed on the same terms (his previous agreement being the last of the SPL-level extravagances that threatened to choke the club).

Wallace and Scobbie are replaced by Jonny Flynn and Chris Smith. Flynn showed at his time at Ross County that, despite his height and commanding presence, he is a fine passer who can play balls to his wide midfielders with accuracy and consistency. Smith is a more traditional “no-nonsense” centre-back who will likely deputise for the vastly experienced Darren Dods. Of more interest is the emergence of Stephen Kingsley as a technically proficient centre-back or left-back, who will provide more natural width than Scobbie did last season. Right-back Kieran Duffie is arguably the most accomplished full-back in the league.

The loss of midfield playmaker Mark Millar to Dundee Utd is notable, but it now affords Pressley the opportunity to play Craig Sibbald and Jay Fulton together on a more regular basis (Fulton can play anywhere across the midfield – a common theme among the developing players at Falkirk). The relatively experienced Stewart Murdoch (aged 22) is likely to sit behind a highly promising trio of Sibbald, Fulton and Luke Leahy.

Falkirk have replaced the iconic Farid El Alagui with Lyle Taylor, who has had an immaculate start to the competitive season. What might be of more interest is that Falkirk seem to have found a natural replacement for Higginbotham, who was sold in January 2012 and who was sorely missed in the second half of the last campaign – Andy Haworth looks to be a dynamic attacking midfielder who could light up the division.

With a tactically articulate manager in Pressley, a man who has never been shy to show leadership when it matters, Falkirk might have the wherewithal to gain promotion to the SPL this season. JAM

 

GREENOCK MORTON

Players in:

  • Willie Dyer (Raith Rovers)
  • Derek Gaston (Albion Rovers)
  • Martin Hardie (Dunfermline Athletic)
  • Jordan Halsman (Motherwell)
  • David Graham (Dunfermline Athletic)
  • Mark McLaughlin (Hamilton Academical)
  • Jason Naismith (St Mirren – on loan)
  • Craig Reid (Queen of the South)
  • Kevin Rutkeiwitcz (Dunfermline Athletic)
  • Stephen Stirling (Stranraer)
  • Scott Taggart (Hibernian)
  • Tony Wallace (Dumbarton)

Players out:

  • Fouad Bachirou
  • Paul Di Giacomo (Airdrie United)
  • Grant Evans (Airdrie United)
  • Iain Flannigan
  • Ross Forsyth (Dumbarton)
  • Andy Graham (Dumbarton)
  • Joel Kasubandi
  • Andy Jackson (Brechin City)
  • Creag Little
  • Stuart McCaffrey
  • Darren McGeouch
  • Matthew McGinley
  • Marc Smyth (Cliftonville)
  • Colin Stewart
  • Derek Young (Queen of the South)

This is an important season for Allan Moore: if he can secure a top three finish in May, he will keep his job. However, if his unusually high turnover of players fails to provide the Morton supporters with attractive and effective football, it is unlikely he will remain in charge next term.

The signing of Martin Hardie should instill drive and industry to the Ton – his vociferous personality and aggressive style of play will appeal to fans and should encourage his colleagues. A talented set-piece taker, he will be an important player.

Moore also has brought in a number of senior players including David Graham, Kevin Rutkeiwitcz and Mark McLaughlin. All are replete with solid First Division experience and, like Hardie, will look to help with the development of Morton’s burgeoning youth squads. The signing of Stranraer’s Stephen Stirling and goalkeeper Derek Gaston from Albion Rovers also look inspired – the pair were two of the most coveted players in the lower echelons of the SFL and have already excited in the early stages of the season.

Morton have the potential to be this season’s, well, “surprise package”, to borrow a well-worn cliché. The cup results have been impressive, while the level of performance suggests the team have the ability to offer a substantial challenge come the end of the season. VF

 

HAMILTON ACADEMICAL

Players in:

  • Kevin Cuthbert (Ayr United)
  • Jon McShane (St Mirren)
  • Jon Routlege (Stockport County, loan)

Players out:

  • Grant Anderson (Raith Rovers)
  • David Hutton
  • Mark McLaughlin (Greenock Morton)
  • Simon Mensing

Hamilton have one of the most settled squads in the division, which might help them in their cause to win promotion, but on the whole, the squad still seems too young with not enough experience to guide the youth through inconsistent form.

That said, Billy Reid’s prodigies are now one year older and wiser than last season. A late surge up the table took the Accies to a fourth place finish and without Ross County and Dundee in this year’s First Division, Reid will want to improve on last term.

The departures of Mark McLaughlin and Simon Mensing have resulted in a lot of lost experience in defence. Martin Canning now bears the burden of carrying the rest of the backline through, but it is doubtful if he alone can replicate the aerial threat of McLaughlin and Mensing at set-pieces (McLaughlin alone scored seven goals in the First Division in season 2011-12).

Only goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert (29), Canning (30) and club captain and coach Alex Neil (31) can claim to be senior players within the squad. However, there are some tantalising prospects at the club including Andy Ryan and Jon McShane, two forwards with a combined age of 37, but who will be relied upon to score the majority of Hamilton’s goals this season.

If Reid can settle with a consistent XI and perhaps a stock plan A and B to build and evolve his team from, then Hamilton could be the archetypal “dark horse” this year. However, if there is to be a repeat of the first half of last season, including the erratic use formations on a weekly basis, the seemingly random dropping of players, and the public denouncing of younger players’ performances, it is unlikely that Hamilton will finish any better than mid-table. JAM

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.

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