Last night, we brought you the first part of Gavin Saxton’s extensive preview of the 2009/10 Scottish football season. This morning comes the second part of his round-up, focusing on the Second and Third Divisions of the Scottish Football League.
Updated (6th August) – to take account of the changes in divisional status following Livingston’s relegation from the first to the third division.
So, I had this one wrapped, Airdrie were going to win it by a street and below that it was a very tight division that was very difficult to call. Accordingly, in Airdrie’s absence, it’s become a very open league with no obvious favourites – I’ve just shifted everyone up a place and put Cowdenbeath in at the bottom, but I’m by no means convinced of Brechin’s title credentials.
1. Brechin City – I’ve kept Brechin in as the best of the rest if only because they were at times the best footballing side in the division last season. But the mid-season loss of manager Michael O’Neill followed by key striker Gary Twigg (both to Shamrock Rovers) set them back, and with the loss of another couple of decent players in John Ward and Darren Smith there are fears they could be losing their edge and settling back into mediocrity under Jim Duffy. Fears which the signing of perennial waster Ian Harty will do nothing to allay.
2. Arbroath – Arbroath have made a couple of astute signings in Steven Doris, following last season’s loan spell, and experienced forward Stevie Hislop from Raith; Jamie Bishop in defence is a player I like too. No one else seems to fancy them much but they’re my outside tips for the promotion race. Much may depend, however, on the shaky injury records of Hislop and fellow striker Bryan Scott.
3. Dumbarton – It’s less than three months since club captain Gordon Lennon lifted the third division trophy, and his tragic death a few weeks later in an off-road vehicle accident has rather overshadowed their close season as they prepare for life in the second. Nonetheless confidence is high, and with the team strengthened by Darren Gribben (Berwick) and Scott Chaplain (Partick) they should be looking up rather than down.
4. Stirling Albion – Stirling improved during last season after a bad start, and they have decent forwards at this level in Martin Grehan and David McKenna which might put them in with a play-off shout. Financial troubles have yet to be resolved though, leaving them with a pretty small and limited-looking squad which might be more vulnerable than most to a couple of key injuries.
5. Alloa – Allan Maitland is one of the most liked and respected managers in the game at lower league levels, but after a disappointing season last season he could find himself under pressure if Alloa get off to another bad start. The signings this summer include a couple of old-timers, Scott Walker at the back and Brian Carrigan up-front after a loan spell last season. Carrigan hasn’t been universally appreciated by fans of all his previous clubs, but both look like reasonable signings to me. I suspect not quite good enough to make the play-offs nonetheless.
6. Peterhead – The Blue Toon made the play-offs last year and they could do so again, but the squad seems to be pared down a bit from last season, chances are they will once again pad it out with loan signings from the other Highland clubs. Callum McDonald and Bobby Mann form one of the division’s better defensive partnerships, but I was a bit surprised to see they’ve released Michael Kula, who always seemed like a pretty good ‘keeper behind them.
7. Stenhousemuir – Came up through the play-offs after finishing only fourth in the third division last season, so they probably ought to be relegation favourites, but things are never that simple. In Kevin Motion, Scott Dalziel and Craig O’Reilly they have a few players who at least know where the goals are even if none of them are proven at this level, and I would think they’ve every chance of finding a couple of sides worse than them.
8. Clyde – Since almost going out of business at the end of last season, Clyde have sacked their entire full-time playing staff and held open trials to sign up a scratch squad on a reported maximum wage of £20 a week. So anything could happen, but it would be asking a lot to expect much in the circumstances. They’d be happy with survival I should think. In every sense.
9. East Fife – I hope I’m wrong about this one, I really do, because it would be nice to see Stevie Crawford do well in his first management job; but having started last season as promotion tips in some circles they finished it – shorn of then Chairman Willie Gray’s largesse – in freefall, and nothing has happened in pre-season to suggest that that fall has yet bottomed out. Still, Bobby Linn remains one of the division’s most dangerous strikers, so they’re by no means without hope.
10. Cowdenbeath – Like Airdrie in the first, Cowden will inevitably start as relegation favourites after preparing for another season in the third, and in Cowden’s case I think that probably will be how it pans out. Even though I’d tipped them to win the third in my original piece, I didn’t do so with huge conviction, and with John Gemmell’s departure to Montrose it’s by no means clear that they’re even as strong as they were last season. And that’s without any consideration of the off-field issues I alluded to the other day. It’s going to be a tough season for them.
Some players to watch:
Derek Carcary (Dumbarton); Occasionally brilliant but too often anonymous during his time at Raith, he seems to have had a good season for Dumbarton last year and maybe now has got the regular football he needs to show what he can do. Or not. Who knows?
Steven Doris (Arbroath); Midfielder who had a successful loan spell at Arbroath last season, and I’m a bit surprised that St Johnstone weren’t willing to give him a chance to see if he could play at a higher level. However, they’ve released him, and he’s gone back to Arbroath on a permanent deal.
Greig Spence (Alloa); Broke into the Alloa team last season, aged 16 but looking 12. I’ve no idea if he’s going to be any good or not, but he scored a goal last season at Ayr which won the league for Raith, so I just wanted to mention it.
Again, I’ve just shifted everyone up a place with Cowdenbeath’s depature. Which means I’ve got Montrose as title winners rather than dark horses in a play-off spot; and suddenly that sounds rather less plausible. But if not them – who? Again it’s a very open league. We’re unclear at the time of this update whether Livingston will take part in the third, and if so what kind of team they’ll field.
1. Montrose – It’s been fifteen seasons now since Montrose were last out of the bottom division, but they’ve been knocking on the door a bit for the past couple of seasons, and while they still have a young side I fancy the signing of Gemmell up front may just tip the balance and make them stronger challengers this year.
2. Forfar – A televised cup tie against Rangers is a huge windfall for a club at this level, and I imagine it’s the finance from that event last season which has enabled Forfar to strengthen their squad with some experienced players this summer, notably Chris Templeman and Kevin Fotheringham from East Fife. As such, they’ve been installed as favourites in some quarters and maybe that’s fair enough but I dunno – I think that might just be because they have players who are better-known rather than actually better. They’ll be up there challenging nonetheless.
3. Albion Rovers – Another perennial basement side, but one going into the season with some degree of confidence. There are a few new arrivals but just as important is that they seem to have kept hold of Bobby Barr, and if one of the new forwards – maybe McCusker – can complement him by chipping in some goals they could be a surprise package. They’ve already surprised two first division sides in the cups, even if one of them was only Livingston.
4. Annan Athletic – Far from being the anticipated whipping boys, Annan did rather well last year in their debut season, and were in contention for a play-off spot for most of it. With a few adjustments to the squad, in particular Bryan Gilfillan returning after a spell down under, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge again.
5. East Stirlingshire – Not so long ago the laughing stock of Scottish football, the Shire made the play-offs last year, and will be hopeful of doing so again. But while Jamie Stevenson has now joined them on a permanent basis, last season’s other loan signing, Brian Graham, has returned to Morton and with a reduced budget this year they’ll struggle to replace him.
6. Queen’s Park – Their excellent side of a couple of years ago has now scattered to the winds, such is the nature of being the only amateur side in the league, and Queen’s Park looked a pretty mediocre outfit in their relegation season last year. I don’t see them coming back up.
7. Berwick Rangers – Already on their fourth manager since winning this league just two years ago, and with a takeover also going through during last season, Berwick have had a rather turbulent time of it lately, and this summer has seen another whirl of transfer activity. So you never know, it might all click into place, but with one of the departees being top scorer Darren Gribben, I’m expecting them to be down among the deadmen again this season.
8. Stranraer – Now starting their eighth consecutive season in a different division (can anyone beat that?), but that’s as far as the sequence will go. Last season saw financial meltdown as well as relegation, and while the immediate threats to their existence seem to have been averted their circumstances remain straitened and they are unlikely to challenge. Michael Moore is back at the club for a third spell though, and as ever he’ll be an almighty pain in the arse wherever he goes. I mean that in a good way. Mostly.
9. Elgin City – Finished bottom by some distance last season, and it’s a bit of a cheap and easy prediction to say they will again. But I’m happy to go with cheap and easy (Livingston notwithstanding), even though the Elgin fans actually seem to be pretty confident of finishing somewhat higher this season, with Allan Dempsie returning in defence after a season at Ayr, and pacy striker Craig Gunn joining from Ross County. I suspect it’ll need a bit more than that to turn them round but hope springs eternal.
unknown: Livingston – will they, won’t they? Watch this space.
Some players to watch:
John ‘The Beast’ Gemmell (Montrose); Big striker who can play a bit, moans for Scotland, and would probably be playing at a higher level by now were it not for some doubts about his attitude. Montrose have apparently paid a fee to secure his signing from Cowdenbeath, which is a bit unusual at this level, and it should be a good bit of business.
Bryan Deasley (Forfar); Despite only being four feet tall (ish), he was once considered very promising by Dundee fans, but he’s not as young as all that any more and it doesn’t look like he’s going to fulfil that promise. A bit of a surprise, then, when they gave him a new contract at the end of last season; less of a surprise when they farmed him out to Forfar for the season. He could do very well at this level.
Bobby Barr (Albion Rovers); Twenty year old who scored thirteen goals from midfield last season, it’s a bit of a surprise that he’s still at Rovers this season rather than moving up to a higher level, but he will do sooner rather than later if he keeps up the same form.
Keaghan Jacobs (Livingston); If Livi do take part with a scratch side of kids, Jacobs is a nineteen year old midfielder who looks likely to be the pick of them. Failing that he’s got three younger brothers (triplets no less) playing for their successful Under 19s side.