Sammy and Yogi!: The First Division Preview

LIVINGSTON

Players in:

  • Anthony Andreu (Stade Nyonnais)
  • David Luongo (Stade Nyonnais)
  • Jordan Morton (Heart of Midlothian)

Players out:

  • Rory Boulding (Kilmarnock)
  • Jonathan Brown (Brechin City)
  • Kenny Deuchar (retired)
  • Andrew Murphy (Bathgate Thistle)
  • David Sinclair (Ayr United)

If the recent 8-0 caning of Stranraer is anything to go by, Livingston will be a dangerous team who will consider themselves worthy of challenging for the league title.

The most notable loss in the summer was Rory Boulding leaving for Kilmarnock.  Boulding scored eight goals in the last ten league matches of 2011-12 and was justly headhunted for a role in the SPL. However, Livi still have Iain Russell and Marc McNulty in attack, both of whom have the ability to end the season as the division’s top-scorers. New signing Jordan Morton will push hard on the other forwards for a place in the first XI.

Midfield creativity will fall upon Stefan Scougall, with assistance from both Jacobs brothers, Kyle and Keaghan. Scougall does not necessarily look tall nor strong enough to cope in a physical league, but his first touch and vision are wonderfully assured. His role in linking defence through midfield and attack is vital to the short-passing game that manager John “Yogi” Hughes will look to impose.

Livi are another club in the division who have put faith in players in their late teens and early twenties to balance the ledger, with the added hope they will develop into saleable assests in the same manner as Leigh Griffiths, Robert Snodgrass and Graham Dorrans. The squad on the whole might not be strong enough to win the title (for instance, goalkeeper Andy McNeil is still prone to too many match-changing mistakes, despite having the ability to put in man of the match performances), but a top three position is not out of the question.

If the French imports – arrived via Director of Football John Collins’s Gaelic contacts – turn out to be as promising as is indicated, Livi will be contenders. If the new signings do not succeed, Livi might finish anywhere between fourth and sixth. JAM

 

PARTICK THISTLE

Players in:

  • James Craigen (Edinburgh University)
  • Steven Lawless (Motherwell)
  • Aaron Muirhead (Annan Athletic)
  • Hugh Murray (St Mirren)
  • Sean Welsh (Hibernian)

Players out:

  • Mark Burbidge
  • Kieran Burns (Irvine Meadow)
  • Paul Cairney (Hibernian)
  • Shaun Fraser
  • Gavin Griffin (Airdrie United)
  • Christopher Ketterer
  • Willie Kinniburgh (Irvine Meadow)
  • Johnny Lindsay
  • Jordan McGrotty
  • Scott Robertson (Arbroath)
  • Colin Stevenson (Irvine Meadow)
  • Tommy Stewart (Shamrock Rovers)

Last term, Partick Thistle were one of the league’s most erratic teams. One match would yield a handsome victory; the next would end in defeat. Jackie McNamara claimed his side’s inconsistency was down to the relative callowness of his squad and the manager has attempted to address its brittleness for the season ahead. The signing of the experienced Hugh Murray from St Mirren should bring stability and balance to Thistle’s midfield, and may also spell the end of David Rowson’s tenure with the club – Rowson was absent from several pre-season matches due to work committments and a persistent back injury. The long-serving midfielder has been a consistent player for Thistle, but Murray could be seen as his immediate successor.

The departure of Paul Cairney to Hibernian was entirely expected and left the side bereft of a geuinely creative midfielder. The acquisitions of Sean Welsh (brought in from Hibs on a permanent basis after a successful loan spell last term) and Steven Lawless are seen as solutions to the Cairney’s defection. Welsh is a dynamic player who can link play between midfield and attack with flair, while Lawless is a tricky, stylish wide midfielder, and will line up alongside Chris Erskine behind the main striker. McNamara stated on several occasions last year his eagerness for his team to shoot from distance with greater frequency and much will be expected from Lawless.

Aaron Muirhead, recruited from Annan Athletic, has been likened to Thistle legend Stephen Craigan in some quarters. Muirhead is an athletic, vocal centre-back who can also slot in at right full-back and has impressed during pre-season. He will learn a lot from the influential Alan Archibald in defence.

There is a lot of positivity surrounding Thistle this season. McNamara has assembled a squad with depth, youth and experience, but perhaps most impressive of all, he has created a tactically fluid side with the ability to alter formation and philosophy during matches. If Thistle can string a few postive results together at the start of the season and maintain pace with the league leaders over winter, they stand a good chance of challenging for the championship title. VF

 

RAITH ROVERS

Players in:

  • Grant Anderson (Hamilton Academical)
  • Stuart Anderson (Salisbury City)
  • Pat Clarke (Dunfermline Athletic)
  • Jason Thomson (Heart of Midlothian)
  • Eddie Malone (Ayr United)
  • Greig Spence (Celtic)

Players out:

  • Mark Aitken (Stoneyburn)
  • John Baird (Dundee)
  • Damian Casalinuovo
  • Iain Davidson (Dundee)
  • Samir Dghoughi
  • Willie Dyer (Greenock Morton)
  • Jamie Forsyth (Stoneyburn)
  • Scott McBride (East Fife)
  • Dayle McGaw
  • Jordan Roberts
  • Jamie Stewart
  • Andy Walls
  • Iain Williamson
  • Jordan Wright (Stoneyburn)

It is always difficult to predict how a rookie will fare in his first season as manager and Grant Murray’s ascent to the Raith Rovers hotseat is no exception. Murray was never the most vocal of players nor the most obvious leader on the pitch, so his promotion to manager may seem surprising. However, given the number of cut-backs at club, Murray is perhaps an inexpensive and low-risk option.

In the summer, Rovers lost John Baird, their key player, to Dundee. Baird was joined at Dens Park by the long-serving Iain Davidson, despite the club offering him a new contract and a testimonial. Both will be missed in Kirkcaldy, and Murray has had a difficult job in trying to replace them.

The manager has secured the signing of Pat Clarke, a striker with a reasonable goal-scoring record in the First Division. Clarke is well known at Starks Park, having spent the end of last season there on-loan, and he should provide the team with a decent out-ball. He has the physical strength and intelligence to hold up play, but is a capable presence in and around the penalty box. Despite a disappointing spell at Dunfermline, he will be a welcome addition to the team.

Murray has identified the left and right-back positions as a potential weakness for Rovers, but has addressed concerns by signing Eddie Malone and Jason Thomson. Malone, a player with great experience in this league, is a sturdy and industrious defender while Thomson, brought in from Hearts, was on-loan at Rovers last season. He should provide a positive outlet on the right flank

Crucially, Murray has managed to hold onto goalkeeper David McGurn. While still remaning a part-time footballer in an otherwise full-time squad, his astonishing shot-stopping ability and his command and communication will provide a source of confidence to his defence.

Raith Rovers’s squad lacks depth. They have solid options up front in the form of Greig Spence and Brian Graham, but must add one or two more players to ensure a comfortable season. They should be difficult opposition this year, and the relative weakness of Cowdenbeath, Dumbarton and Airdrie United will ultimately spare their blushes. VF

This season’s First Division preview is brought to you by Vinny Ferguson, John A Maxwell and Craig G Telfer.

Tell Him He's Pelé

Tell Him He's Pelé

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