League 1 is, paradoxically, both the country’s most predictable and unpredictable division. With their full-time status and merry raft of costly new signings, anything other than a Rangers championship victory – even against their recent boardroom shenanigans – seems outlandish. But outwith the Ibrox club, this is perhaps the most competitive league in the country; to run out a well-worn cliche, everyone can probably beat everyone else.
With the exception of Rangers, it is difficult to guess as to where the other clubs will finish come May. Dunfermline Athletic are a full-time team in a part-time league, but how will their inexperienced squad fare? On paper, Brechin City look to be a decent prospect, but didn’t they just lose their last two matches to inferior opposition? And what about Stenhousemuir? They boast an outstanding attack, sure, can they solidify their overly generous defence? Is there a place in the top four for them?
In some ways, the current League 1 could mirror last season’s old Third Division. Rangers’ presence will probably deny an otherwise interesting title challenge, but the generally speaking, the overall quality of the league should improve; the higher standard and the increased revenues can only be a good thing.
All previews and transfers are correct as of 7 August.
Players in: Lewis Coult (Cowdenbeath); Martin Hardie (Greenock Morton); Jim Lister (Dumbarton); Darren McCormack (East Fife); Mick O’Byrne (Albion Rovers); David Sinclair (Ayr United); Colin Stewart (Cowdenbeath)
Players out: Kenny Arthur (Annan Athletic); Alan Cook (Arbroath); Paul di Giacomo (retired); Ryan Donnelly (Brechin City); Gavin Griffin; Steven Hetherington (end of loan); Jordan Kilpatrick; David Lilley; Sean Lynch (Stenhousemuir); Jordan Moore (end of loan); Robbie Thomson (end of loan); Marc Warren (Sydney FC)
It was predictable that Airdrieonians would fine the 2012-13 campaign a long, hard slog. Last season’s squad looked as though it would have struggled to prosper in the Second Division, let alone the second tier, but the wretchedness of what unfolded was worse than anyone could have imagined. Airdrie scored 41 goals and conceded 89 as they slithered into League 1; it was clear that Jimmy Boyle needed to strengthen every area of his team.
The manager conducted his transfer business reasonably early and drafted in a number of solid acquisitions. The signing of Dumbarton’s Jim Lister and Lewis Coult of Cowdenbeath are encouraging, but both players come with caveats. The pair share a reputation for “being a handful” rather than their goal-scoring prowess. Lister finished last season with 12 league goals, while Coult has already proven himself at this level by scoring 13 times during Cowden’s championship win in 2011-12, but these tallies are the exception rather than the rule: neither player is prolific. With John Boyle absent until Christmas, the onus will be on Lister and Coult to quickly forge a successful partnership.
Although the offensive additions look impressive, there are question marks over their defensive recruitments. Darren McCormack experienced a poor season with East Fife last term and Mick O’Byrne suffered relegation with Albion Rovers. The former has looked reasonably composed over last fortnight’s two cup ties, but with the side conceding four goals, it appears as though Boyle has yet to solve their defensive issues.
The ‘Onians support can take encouragement from the team’s midfield. By bringing in David Sinclair and Martin Hardie, Boyle has added strength, experience and – potentially – goals to his team, with the pair having both scored ten times last season. Hardie in particular appears to be a real coup, and the 37-year-old should help with the development of young Nathan Blockley, an exciting player who already netted twice this season.
Two wins from two is a superb start to the season for the Diamonds, and the majority of their new signings have shown up well. If Boyle can instill discipline and organisation into his defence, then a play-off spot is a distinct possibility. SM
Players in: Alan Cook (Airdrieonians); Johnny Lindsay (Stalybridge Celtic); Bobby Linn (Ballingrey Rovers); Ricky Little (Queen’s Park); Steven Milne (Dundee); Darren Smith (East Fife); Lari Yau
Players out: Mark Baxter (Forfar Athletic); Steven Doris (Dundee); Derek Holmes; Stewart Malcolm (Forfar Athletic); Danny Rennie; Scott Robertson (Stranraer)
Over two seasons at Gayfield, forwards Gavin Swankie and Steven Doris and dynamic midfielder Josh Falkingham scored 87 goals between them. The three were instrumental in securing Arbroath’s first ever league title, followed by their highest league finish in 12 years. However, good players will inevitably move on and the loss of Swankie and Falkingham last summer heavily impacted on the team’s scoring prowess. Arbroath were the Second Division’s third lowest scorers last term and their lacklustre season ultimately ended in disappointment, with Paul Sheerin’s side missing out on a fourth place finish on the final day of the season.
The players recruited to replace Swankie and Falkingham were, by the manager’s own admission, inadequate. Twelve months on, Sheerin finds himself in a similar position after Doris’s protracted return to full-time football was eventually confirmed. He cannot make the same mistake again, and has turned to former St Johnstone team-mate Steven “Savo” Milne to supplement the attack.
Although 33-years-old, Milne has insisted he can still pose a threat in front of goal, despite a frustrating season with in the SPL at Dundee after being limited to just 18 appearances (and three goals) in all competitions. If he can stay free from injury, he should be looking to replicate the form of 2011-12 which saw him score 15 First Division goals.
Milne will be supported by the little-known Lari Yau, former Airdrieonians youth Alan Cook, and Bobby Linn. Linn returns to the senior game after a season with Ballingrey Rovers where his 40 goals in 41 appearances helped lead the Fife junior side to promotion to the East Region Premier League. Previous spells in the third tier with Peterhead and East Fife suggest the 27-year-old is capable of at least ten goals this year.
The defence will be strengthened by Queen’s Park’s Ricky Little. The versatile 23-year-old impressed at the Spiders last season, demonstrating intelligence, poise and solid positional sense. He should do well this term, despite injury precluding his participation in the opening weeks of the league campaign.
With Sheerin’s first two seasons at Arbroath marked by success, his fourth year at the club is an important one. Any aspirations of a bigger post will not be well served by a second season of disappointment. AG
Players in: David Hutton (Greenock Morton); Alan Lithgow (Dumbarton); Craig Malcolm (Stranraer); Josh McArthur (St Mirren); Scott McLaughlin (Peterhead); Gordon Pope (Auchinleck Talbot)
Players out: Ally Brown; Darren Brownlie; Liam Buchanan (East Fife); Kyle McAusland (end of loan); Austin McCann (Clydebank); Neil McGregor (end of loan); Ryan McStay (Irvine Meadow); Alan Murdoch (Lanark United); John Robertson (retired); Ross Robertson (Glenafton Athletic); David Sinclair (Airdrieonians); Chris Smith (end of loan); Graeme Smith (Brechin City); Marc Twaddle; David Winters
Mark Roberts’s summation of his first season in management at Ayr United was brutally honest: unacceptable. Inconsistent and easy to beat (often from winning positions), the pre-season favourites concluded the 2012-13 campaign by finishing in seventh, 51 points behind champions Queen of the South and 13 from the promotion play-off places. A relatively significant outlay in January brought no improvement and posed serious concerns about the efficacy of Roberts’ transfer dealings, as well as his tactical and motivational credentials.
Supporters’ frustrations continued into the summer after a number of players – targets whom Roberts publically courted – rejected the Honest Men, with Bobby Barr and Graeme Smith resisting Roberts’ overtures. Player movements over the past few months have been mostly outward, with 15 departing and only six coming in.
Alan Lithgow looks to be a good acquisition and the former Dumbarton centre-back has already added solidity to the United defence. Craig Malcolm has also settled in quickly and will look to continue the form he enjoyed at Stranraer, where he scored 18 times last season. With Michael Donald and Michael McGowan likely to start in the wide positions, there is nothing to suggest that Malcolm and Michael Moffat (16 league goals last term) cannot score more than 30 between them. Beyond the two forwards, however, the squad boasts no other obvious goal-scorers.
There is a lack of depth to the squad. Scott McLaughlin, installed as captain following his return to Ayr on a permanent basis after an unhappy spell at Peterhead, has filled in alongside Lithgow at centre-back during pre-season. Martyn Campbell should nominally fulfil the role, but there are concerns over his fitness. Beyond a starting XI with limited senior experience, Mark Roberts has only teenagers at his disposal. Sixteen-year-old winger Alan Forrest is an exciting prospect and became United’s youngest ever goal-scorer after netting the winner in the Ramsdens Cup tie with Queen’s Park. Forrest and the other young squad members have talent, but how will they cope with the rigours of League 1?
Adding experience to his coaching staff is perhaps Roberts’ most important signing. The addition of former St Mirren and Queen of the South assistant Andy Millen, a popular figure during his playing days at Somerset Park, has been warmly welcomed. The move could be risky for Roberts, however – if Ayr begin the season poorly, then Millen is a ready-made replacement. Regardless, it is difficult to envisage the Honest Men as anything more than an outside bet for the play-offs. AG
Players in: Stuart Anderson (Raith Rovers); Bobby Barr (East Fife); Ryan Donnelly (Airdrieonians); Steven Jackson (East Stirlingshire); Allan Walker (Raith Rovers)
Players out: Michael Andrews (East Fife); Gary Fusco (Forfar Athletic); Jordan Lowdon; David McKenna (Stranraer); Jonny Stewart (East Fife); Ryan Stewart (East Fife)
Ray McKinnon lost just three of his first 20 games in charge of Brechin City (all to Queen of the South) and turned around a team who had all but given up under Jim Weir. Promotion, however, was a step too far, and the squad were brought low after having to finish the season with 12 fixtures in six weeks, eventually losing out to Alloa Athletic in the play-offs.
March and April were particularly busy months for Brechin. Not only were they forced to clear the backlog of fixtures caused by the degradation of the Glebe Park pitch, they also retained a number of key players on new deals. These signings, coupled with their business over the summer months, has led many to suggest that Brechin are the best placed to finish as the “best of the rest” behind Rangers.
An exciting, fluid quartet of attackers was central to the club’s best performances last term and McKinnon has expanded his options by bringing in Ryan Donnelly and Bobby Barr. Both are exciting signings, but the pair arrive having something to prove as their respective careers have faltered in recent years. In January 2012, Wigan Athletic invited Donnelly on trial after an outstanding run of goal-scoring form but since then, the striker has endured a long, barren period; last term, he managed a sum total of five goals. Barr, meanwhile, was suddenly jettisoned by Livingston and spent the remainder of the season toiling at East Fife.
At the other end of the park, Graeme Smith joins from Ayr United (the goalkeeper was one of the few players to have impressed last year) but there are a number of issues surrounding the defence. Captain Ewan Moyes was involved in a road traffic accident and his absence has disrupted the club’s pre-season. Brechin have already been knocked out of both cup competitions, conceding four goals in the weekend’s defeat at Stranraer.
Is this enough to cause a rethink for their prospects? Once McKinnon – arguably the best manager in the league – is able to field his strongest XI, his team will be fearsome opposition. If Alan Trouten and Andy Jackson can recreate last season’s form – and if Donnelly and Barr can summon the spirit of 2011-12 – Brechin City will enjoy a fine season. AG
Players in: Ryan Ferguson (Dundee United – on loan); Luke Johnston (Dundee United – on loan) Jordan Moore (Dundee United – on loan); Ryan Scully (Partick Thistle – on loan); James Washburn (Torquay United)
Players out: Jack Bruce; Scott Campbell; Blair Henderson; Grant Munro; Andy Ritchie
The season might only have just begun, but Dunfermline Athletic have already recorded their most important victory of the year. The uncertainty which hanged over the East End Park was banished after their creditors voted through a CVA agreement to secure the club’s future, and supporters deserve immense credit for their role in the outcome, having raised over £100,000 to put towards the cause. Now, Jim Jeffries can focus on rebuilding his team for the new League 1 campaign.
The Pars last featured in Scotland’s third tier in 1986 when they pipped Queen of the South to the old Second Division title by two points. Under normal circumstances, the club would have offered a credible title challenge this year, but this season is far from ordinary – an immediate return to the second tier is not an outlandish suggestion, but the Fifers will face a testing time.
A transfer embargo has left Jeffries with a youthful, callow set of players; the team’s average age is 22. The rump of the side that finished 2012-13 still remain, but the team were, at times, overrun in the play-offs by both Forfar Athletic and Alloa Athletic. As such, the presence of Rangers will make winning the championship almost impossible, and with the improvements to every other team in the division, gaining promotion through the play-offs is far from certain.
However, the same squad of players defeated Greenock Morton and were only denied victory against Partick Thistle after a late Steven Lawless strike (the goal which effectively consigned the club to a ninth place finish). There are talented players in the team, but whether or not the youngsters can perform on a consistent basis remains to be seen.
In the last few weeks, the team has been supplemented by a number of loanees from Dundee United. Luke Johnson, Jordan Moore and Ryan Ferguson have all joined until the New Year, with Ferguson having already scored in the recent Ramsdens Cup win over Cowdenbeath. Ryan Scully looks to be a solid acquisition and appears to have already displaced Michal Hrivnak in goal.
Dunfermline’s biggest asset this season with be their midfield, an area of the team that boasts depth and talent. Josh Falkingham stood out at this level with Arbroath in 2011-12 and alongside Stephen Husband, Andy Geggan, Shaun Byrne, Ryan Wallace and Ryan Thomson, there is a core of players who could all operate on a higher plane. Recent performances have also suggested that Chris Kane can also make his mark this term and elsewhere, the back-line will be bolstered by the returning Callum Morris, a player name in the 2012-13 First Division Team of the Year. He too should excel.
Cup performances have tentatively suggested that Dunfermline Athletic could do well this season. They struggled in spells against Cowdenbeath and East Stirlingshire, but a rousing second half display at Central Park showed exactly what the team is capable of. If they can replicate this kind of form over the season, a play-off position is a realistic goal. SM
Players in: Michael Andrews (Brechin City); Liam Buchanan (Ayr United); Pat Clarke (Raith Rovers); Alexis Dutot (Rouen B); Joe Mbu (Cowdenbeath); Cyrus Moosari; Kevin Nade; Emanuel Semedo (Rouen B); Jonny Stewart (Brechin City); Ryan Stewart (Brechin City); Gary Thom (Stirling Albion); Paul Willis (Dunfermline Athletic)
Players out: Calum Antell (Queen of the South); Bobby Barr (Brechin City); Michael Brown (Queen’s Park); Liam Gormley; Darren McCormack (Airdrieonians); Paul McManus (Forfar Athletic); David Muir; Colin Samuel; Darren Smith (Arbroath); Gareth Wardlaw; David White
THE REVOLUTION HAS STARTED boldly claimed a recent East Fife promotional video. If the revolution involves a bunch of unheralded French players and some cast-offs from Brechin City, then yes, you better believe it, it’s well and truly underway.
It has been a summer of upheaval in Methil. Local businessman Lee Murray has taken over the club, replacing the much maligned Billy Brown (who had agreed to stay on under the previous regime) with Willie Aitchison, a former youth coach with Heart of Midlothian. Murray certainly talked a good game and the club were linked to a host of household names including Christian Nade, Nacho Novo and Ismael Bouzid. There were even suggestions of the club turning full-time.
The glamorous transfers failed to materialise. After a long period of inactivity (the club did not have a single player on their books at one point), East Fife had to make do with a series of comparatively underwhelming signings instead. Despite a maudlin spell on loan at Stenhousemuir last year, Joe Mbu looks to be a good acquisition, while Pat Clarke should score goals on a regular basis. Other signings such as Liam Buchanan and Gary Thom (red carded on his competitive debut against Forfar Athletic) were met with indifference.
It is the club’s Gallic recruits which have intrigued, particularly defender Alexis Dutot. A composed, classy player, his performances throughout pre-season have been outstanding. If the Frenchman is able to translate this form to competitive matches he will likely catch the eye of bigger clubs. For now, his two-year contract appears to be a canny piece of business.
It is difficult to get excited about East Fife. The squad looks no better than last season’s and with another novice manager in charge, maintaining their League 1 status is perhaps their priority. CGT
Players in: Marvin Andrews (Albion Rovers); Mark Baxter (Arbroath); James Dale (Stirling University); Bryan Deasley (Lochee United); Darren Dods (Falkirk); Rab Douglas (Dundee); Gary Fusco (Brechin City); Stuart Malcolm (Arbroath); Neil McCabe (Kelty Hearts); Paul McManus (East Fife)
Players out: Michael Bolochoweckyj (East Stirlingshire); Jordon Brown (end of loan); Danny Denholm (Livingston); Dale Hilson (end of loan); Charlie King (Brechin Victoria); Kevin Motion (Spartans); Willie Robertson (end of loan); Barry Sellars; Stephen Tulloch (Berwick Rangers)
One of the biggest talking points of the summer was the prospect of 37-year-old Marvin Andrews and 38-year-old Darren Dods partnering one another in the heart of Forfar Athletic’s defence, while the 40-year-old Rab Douglas manned the goals. Dick Campbell’s strategy of adding experience (and lots of it!) to his squad has the potential to pay dividends and maybe even go one better than last season’s play-off semi-final.
Despite their fourth place finish, the 2012-13 season was marred by haphazard defending and ill-discipline. Although the team opened the league campaign with three clean sheets in their first five matches, the Loons went on to concede 74 goals – only Albion Rovers lost more. The 12 red cards shown over the course of the year was undoubtedly a contributing factor.
Mark Baxter (28) and Stewart Malcolm (33), both formerly of Arbroath, should further bolster Campbell’s defence, although it is worth pointing out that Forfar’s shortcomings last year were not exclusively the fault of their back five – the side was unbalanced and contained too many attackers, while the manager was criticised for his inconsistent and at times, bewildering team selections.
Leaving Station Park is the impressive Danny Denholm, as well as a clutch of young players borrowed from SPL sides. As such, the squad lacks exuberance and creativity, but the relatively unknown James Dale and Neil McCabe should redress these deficiencies. The ever-reliable Chris Templeman and Gavin Swankie are joined in attack by Paul McManus (disappointing with East Fife last year but generally a solid striker) and Bryan Deasley.
Confidence will be high after Saturday’s superb victory over Rangers – the result is the perfect way to prepare for a league campaign. Forfar Athletic largely struggled against the division’s better sides last season and will need to address their flaws if they are to continue their incremental improvements under Campbell. The personalities within the squad will demand that last season’s league finish is, at the very least, repeated. Whether or not the manager has brought together the right blend of youth and experience, however, is open to question. AG
Players in (as of 1 Setptember): Cammy Bell (Kilmarnock); Nicky Clark (Queen of the South); Jon Daly (Dundee United); Richard Foster (Bristol City); Nicky Law (Motherwell); Bilel Mohsni (Southend United); Arnold Peralta (Vida); Stevie Smith (Portland Timbers)
Players out: Neil Alexander; Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA); Blair Currie (Hamilton Academical); Doran Goian (Asteras Tripoli); Kane Hemmings (Cowdenbeath)
Rangers are a shambles. Current events in the Ibrox boardroom have spilled on to the front and back pages, with the resignation of Chairman Walter Smith the latest in a series of undignified events at executive level. The ruminations are likely to rumble on for some time and dominate on-field matters – indeed, Ally McCoist (whose position is under real threat) was able to conveniently cite the unhelpful comments from the former CEO as complicit in the weekend’s League Cup defeat at Forfar Athletic.
With a transfer embargo still in force, McCoist was prevented from fielding his summer recruits as trialists at Station Park. One newspaper suggested that last season’s team were always going to be susceptible to last season’s failings, something that could be read as a damning indictment of the manager’s coaching – if McCoist was unable to correct his players’ flaws against part-time opposition over the summer, one must wonder what on earth is going on at Auchenhowie.
Until 1 September Rangers must carefully deploy their new signings. Only two trialists can play at any one time, and can only make three appearances before being registered. Those recruited from outside of Scotland can only play after the embargo is lifted. Following the win against Albion Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup, it looked as if last season’s team would comfortably negotiate their way through August, but after the Forfar result, nothing can be taken for granted.
Come September, McCoist’s team will have quality far beyond anything else in the division. Stevie Smith, Richard Foster and Bilel Mohsni will strengthen a bothersome defence, while Nicky Law and Jon Daly could conceivably score 40 goals between them. Of the existing players, Lee Wallace will canter through the league while David Templeton – who last played in the third tier during a loan spell at Raith Rovers – should shine. The phrase “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” has been bandied around but after last season’s torpor, exciting recruitments were required to maintain interest. In amongst the new players, it will be hoped that Lewis Macleod and Fraser Aird are given the chance to continue their impressive development.
The only aspect that can hinder Rangers this season is the management by McCoist, with fans increasingly split about his abilities. The manager had no real right to become so incensed with Charles Green’s recent comments about the club’s aspirations for the season – surely a League 1 title won in style and the Ramsdens Cup are the minimum requirements for Rangers after such a handsome outlay. Should the team falter – and without his greatest ally in the boardroom – McCoist could become the division’s first managerial casualty. CGT
Players in: Nicky Devlin (Motherwell); Errol Douglas (Craigroyston); Sean Higgins (Falkirk); Sean Lynch (Airdrieonians); Eddie Malone (Raith Rovers); Ross McNeil (Rutherglen Glencairn U-21s); Chris Smith (St Mirren)
Players out: Marc Corcoran (Stranraer); Jack Hamilton; Stewart Kean (Hurlford Juniors); Stuart Love (Sauchie Juniors); Andy Rodgers (Peterhead); Greg Ross (Penicuik Athletic); Iain Thomson (East Stirlingshire)
One only needs to look at their last two results to see where Stenhousemuir’s strengths and weaknesses lie. One player described the side as resembling Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United – after a 4-4 draw with Arbroath and a 3-4 defeat at Airdrieonians, it is difficult to find fault with such a comparison.
As an attacking threat, the Warriors are one of the best in the league. The team is built around the prowess of John Gemmell, scorer of 18 goals in 24 appearances last term. Gemmell is physical, tenacious, ruthless and audacious, and keeping him fit and free of suspension over the course of the season will be crucial.
His supporting cast is equally as able: Sean Higgins will operate as a second striker and his intelligence and clever use of the ball will be an invaluable asset; Errol Douglas rejected Raith Rovers to sign on at Ochilview and although raw, the player has all the natural attributes to succeed at this level; Darren Smith’s early season performances have indicated he can improve on last year’s impressive strike rate of 12; and Ross McNeil, signed from Rutherglen Glencairn U-21s looks a bright prospect. Simply put, no club outside of Rangers boasts a similar attacking arsenal of such variety and quality.
And yet. For all their offensive capabilities, Stenhousemuir have defended appallingly of late. The Warriors have failed to keep a single clean sheet in pre-season and the lack of organisation and communication throughout the backline is alarming. There are numerous examples throughout the summer, from the chaotic, lop-sided high defensive line against East Stirlingshire, to Kevin McKinlay’s comedy own goal against Stirling Albion, to the carelessness in the draw with Arbroath… It is a major cause for concern.
The problems in defence can be pinpointed to Martin Corrigan’s failure to adequately replace the injured Scot Buist over the summer. The centre-back badly damaged his knee in April and will not feature this season, but instead of bringing in a direct replacement from elsewhere, Corrigan simply moved full-back McKinlay infield and signed Eddie Malone to fill in on the left flank. The move has significantly weakened the team – McKinlay has his qualities but he is incompatible with Ross McMillan in central defence. Buist – an alpha defender and an arch organiser, always cajoling and encouraging his team-mates – brought the best out of the club captain but alongside McKinlay, a similar ball-playing centre-back, McMillan looks diminished. Corrigan has had three months to address the Buist issue but has singularly failed to do so.
As such, it is difficult to gauge how well Stenhousemuir will do this season. Until the team’s defence can be tightened and an authoritative, experienced centre-back sourced, the Warriors will have to live by the mantra of “you score four goals, we’ll score five”. Either way, it will certainly be entertaining. CGT
Players in: Marc Corcoran (Stenhousemuir); Mark Docherty (Alloa Athletic); Chris Fahey (Cumnock); Martin Grehan (Alloa Athletic); Jamie Longworth (Queen’s Park); David McKenna (Brechin City); Scott Robertson (Arbroath)
Players out: Mick Dunlop (Albion Rovers); Darren Gribben (Bo’ness United); Robert Love (Cumnock); Craig Malcolm (Ayr United); Michael “Elbows” Moore (Kilbirnie Ladeside); Armand Oné; Mark Staunton (Irvine Meadow)
Stranraer’s B grade in the End of Term Report Card was testimony to the excellent Steve Aitken. Having replaced Keith Knox in October, Aitken transformed a losing team ill-equipped for their unanticipated ascent to the Second Division into one of belief and resolve, and the Blues confounded their dismal pre-season expectations by finishing in eighth.
With Albion Rovers having made way for Rangers, Aitken once again faces the challenge of oppugning reasoned logic. He will need to do so, however, without key forwards Michael Moore and Craig Malcolm. Moore made more of a significant impression on opposition players last season (he bit Scot Buist) than he did on the scoring charts. The 32-year-old netted twice in 13 starts and completed a full 90 minutes on just three occasions, but in his 30 league appearances, he quite literally battled away for his team. What Moore offered in brawn, Malcolm offered in goals. His tally of 18 represented over 40 per cent of his side’s total – his departure to Ayr United will be keenly felt.
Armand Oné, Darren Gribben and Robert Love (nine goals between them) have also moved on. Aitken moved quickly to increase his offensive options and signed Martin Grehan, David McKenna, Marc Corcoran and Jamie Longworth in a bid to spread the scoring burden more equitably across the team. Longworth is a curious case. The forward was excellent for Queen’s Park in 2011-12 but last season found himself usurped by the club’s talented youngsters and Gardner Speirs’ fondness for a target man in attack – a change of scenery will surely reinvigorate him. Grehan and McKenna are fine players at this level and should add variety to Stranraer’s often predictable attack. The midfield, orchestrated by Chris Aitken, is generally sound.
Their defence could once again be the weak link. Goalkeeper David Mitchell is well-regarded but surely deserves a more reliable back four in front of him. Despite having lost five goals in the recent cup ties, Stranraer still recorded impressive victories over Dumbarton and Brechin City. Both results suggest Stranraer are prepared to do more than skirt around the lower end of the table this season. AG