Thursday, August 6, 2009

With East Fife’s League campaign now just two days away, and now that we know for definite who's going to be in the division, there’s no better time to look at AFTN’s season preview.

The pre-season games and work is now a thing of the past, as are the two Cup defeats suffered so far. There’s only one thing that matters between now and May and that’s the Scottish Second Division.

Last season was a disappointment, especially on the back of the euphoric Championship season from the year before. With the money spent and the players in the squad, a play off berth should have been the least that we achieved and finally finishing 6th was not acceptable and rightly cost Dave Baikie his job.

We’re now in the Stevie Crawford era and it’s up to the ex Scotland international to show what he’s made of from the get go. It’s not going to be easy. Results so far have been mixed but at least the signs are there that we are moving in the right direction, with the very positive focus on younger players and youth development setting our future path out for us.

So what of the rest of the division? With Livingston’s demotion to the Third and yet another reprieve for Airdrie United, there is no doubting that the Second Division is wide open and there for the taking. There are no obvious runaway favourites and some of the teams that looked weak on paper have looked anything but on grass.

We feel it’s going to be a two horse battle for the title between BRECHIN CITY and PETERHEAD.

Brechin are our tip for the top. They’ve only let two players go from last season and added to their squad numbers. The familiarity from last season and their ability to grind out results and hit late winners should take them up this year we feel. They’re not exciting but they get done what they need to get done.

Peterhead should run them a close second. Their 3-0 loss at home to Arbroath in the CIS Cup last week was a shocker, but the recent return of proven goalscorer Scott Michie will bolster their attack and the addition of goalie Jon Bateman, on loan from Aberdeen, their back. Consistency is the key word here for the Balmoor outfit. Achieve that and they’ll be there or there about come the season end.

Those two fighting it out at the top leaves three play off places up for grabs and that should certainly be within EAST FIFE’s grasp. If the players gel quickly, especially at the back, then the Craw’s superior fitness work should start to pay dividends as the season gets into the later stages. There’s still concern as to where the goals are going to come from though and that could be what costs us a play off place. It’s going to be tight.

STIRLING ALBION should make the playoffs quite comfortably. They’ll not be challenging at the top and nowhere near the bottom, so whether they can keep any momentum going in that scenario will be interesting. They could be a lot like us last season, just with more points. They could still come unstuck through money worries, but that’s looking a lot less likely now. They’ve only brought in a handful of players, trimmed some deadweight and are relying on building on their core from last season, who came on strong towards the season end. David McKenna is still a danger man to watch out for and his partnership with Michael Mullen should produce the goals for them.

I think the surprise package of this term is going to be ARBROATH. They’ve made three strong additions in Steven Doris from St Johnstone, ex Fifer Keith Gibson from Montrose and the aging Stevie Hyslop from Raith (I can’t believe he’s only 31!). Barry Sellars and Robbie Raeside are already looking to be keen and in fine form this season.

CLYDE are the unknown quantity. After all their money problems and players being released, no one really has any idea what kind of side is going to take to the park this season. They could be hungry and overachieve or they could be this year’s Stranraer. 24 players out, 12 in at the last count, including East Fife‘s Paul Stewart, who I feel was a bad player for us to let go. They need to get some chemistry quickly or they could struggle but I feel they’ll do better than a lot of people think.

Talking of unknown quantities, no one will now know what to expect from COWDENBEATH. The team were planning for a Third Division campaign and have now been thrust into the higher level with no warning. That said, they fell just short of promotion last season (losing the playoffs on penalties), so they’re not going to be too weak. There’s concerns by many Cowden fans as to whether Danny Lennon is the right man to be their manager and he’ll certainly be tested. The shock factor could see them get off to a flyer like East Fife did in 2003/04 - and we all remember how that ended up in freefall and relegation.

Cowden were pipped to the title last season by DUMBARTON. It’s hard to see anything but lower table for them in their first season back in the Second. It’s proved a hard hunting ground for us in recent seasons and they will be keen to do well for the memory of Gordon Lennon. They’ve certainly strengthened their squad from last season, with a lot of players with higher level experience. I’m expecting another strong start but then fading away as the season progresses.

The third from third, STENHOUSEMUIR, will struggle but they may have the advantage over Cowdenbeath in that at least they’ve prepared for this season. Can former Fife favourite Craig O’Reilly reach his potential and come back and haunt us? Looks no than a strong Third Division squad to us at the moment.

ALLOA are another side who will struggle but certainly have the players that could just keep them up if they hit top form. They’ve acquired a good keeper in David Crawford from Queens Park and he’s going to need to be at his best to stave off a relegation battle this term.

Putting all of those views into a final league table, this is how we think the Scottish Second Division will shape up this season:

(1) Brechin City
(2) Peterhead
(3) Arbroath
(4) Stirling Albion
(5) East Fife
(6) Clyde
(7) Dumbarton
(8) Stenhousemuir
(9) Cowdenbeath
(10) Alloa Athletic

So that’s our thoughts. Share yours with us on the AFTN Forum.


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