Saturday, July 29, 2017

2017-18 Scottish League One preview

If League Two seems to contain the same teams, year after year, League One is the opposite.  Stranraer are the longest serving side in this division, entering their sixth straight season; only they and Airdrie have been here for more than two years.

Generally most of the clubs are part-time, with a handful of full-time sides who fancy themselves as belonging at a higher level...which is a big risk to take given the paltry income and attendances in this tier.  And the part-timers are no mugs.

But it is a catastrophe that Raith Rovers are in League One, and it will be an even bigger disaster if they don't return to the Championship at the first attempt.  Barry Smith was poached from East Fife to steady the ship, and they've stayed full time and therefore held on to much of their squad.  The addition of Liam Buchanan from Livingston and Greig Spence from Alloa should guarantee goals.  It will be exciting to see how much damage young Liam Vaughan, who belongs at a much higher level, can do.

The other side demoted to League One, Ayr United, were part-time this season but have taken the gamble to go full-time.  Expectations will therefore be high.  However, they lost a number of good players who either declined to drop down with them (Conrad Balatoni, Farid El Alagui, Gary Harkins, Nicky Devlin), or who didn't want to go full-time (Greg Fleming, Paul Cairney, Darryl Meggatt).  They've brought in plenty of experience though in the likes of Chris Higgins, Andy Geggan and the returning prodigal son, Michael Moffat.

Ayr should look to the third and final full-time club, Airdrieonians, as a cautionary tale; they failed to go up last season and the summer has been one of turmoil with the chairman withdrawing his financial backing and Head Coach Mark Wilson resigning; he still hasn't been permanently replaced.  The squad is mostly the same - many of them were on two year contracts - but with a struggle ahead to pay bills expect any sellable assets (striker Andy Ryan in particular) to be flogged.  They finished fourth last season, but the off-field problems may drag them down the table.

Alloa Athletic were the best part-timers in the division last season, finishing a comfortable second but blowing it in the playoffs.  Staying near the top will depend on Jim Goodwin's first summer of recruitment; he lost crucial cogs Jordan Kirkpatrick, Calum Waters and Greg Spence but incomers Gary Fleming and Craig Malcolm should form a formidable strike partnership.  They will fancy their chances of a top half finish.

Stranraer have similar designs despite flirting with relegation at times last season.  They improved markedly under Stephen Farrell and finished the campaign strongly; they'll look to repeat their playoff appearances from the previous two seasons.  Jamie Hamill and Grant Anderson should prove class additions at this level, and Danny Stoney and Ryan Wallace should replace the goals of departing duo Craig Malcolm and Mark McGuigan.

It's hard to know how East Fife will do under new boss Darren Young; they seemed to punch above their weight last season by flirting with a playoff spot.  There are some quality signings, such as Ben Gordon and Craig Watson, but they lost duo Ross Brown and Scott Robinson to Livingston.  This writer has a beef with them for having a player (Paul Willis) who has the squad number 77.  In League One?!  Come on!

Young pitched up at Methil after a relatively successful time at Albion Rovers which came to an abrupt end at the end of last season.  He's been replaced by rookie Brian Kerr, but the time taken to appoint him came at a cost as other clubs stole away the best players the Coatbridge side had to offer.  Kerr has worked hard to catch up, and the acquisitions of Jason Marr and Alan Trouten are good business, but they'll need junior goal machine Joao Victoria to finally prove he can score regularly in the senior ranks.

The proud amateurs of Queen's Park are always hard to gauge, and as ever they did most of their transfer work in the juniors.  But as you would expect they are a tough nut to crack under Gus MacPherson and only narrowly missed a playoff spot last time out.  With Ryan McGeever and Dario Zanatta the only players of note lost in the offseason, they will do fine as long as a few of their ten new signings hit the ground running.  Chris Duff comes in from Kirkintilloch Rob Roy with a fine reputation for trickery.

Of the two newly promoted teams, Arbroath are undoubtedly in better shape and their manager Dick Campbell knows this division like the back of his hand.  They look stronger than when they won League Two, with Gavin Swankie (for that rare thing at this level, a transfer fee!), Thomas O'Brien and Danny Denholm brought in from rivals Forfar, and experienced keeper David Hutton added too.  Most intriguingly they won the race for Cove Rangers star Blair Yule, who was wanted by some full-time clubs.

In contrast, Forfar Athletic do not look very well prepared for the step up, with rumours of discord in their camp fueled by the acrimonious exit of Swankie.  The loss of three first team regulars to their neighbours does not bode well.  Promising striker Josh Peters has stepped up to the full-time ranks with Livingston, though Dylan Easton will be a very able replacement if he has overcome the injuries that blighted last year with Clyde.  Mark Millar and Simon Mensing will add experience and Marc McCallum should be one of the division's best keepers, but it will be hard for them.

So this is how I think it'll finish:

1. RAITH ROVERS

2. AYR UNITED
3. ALLOA ATHLETIC
4. STRANRAER

5. QUEEN'S PARK
6. ARBROATH
7. EAST FIFE
8. AIRDRIEONIANS

9. ALBION ROVERS

10. FORFAR ATHLETIC

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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