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2020/21 Scottish League One preview

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hislopsoffsideagain

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 To be blunt, League One should be a two horse race.


That's not being harsh on the other eight clubs; there are plenty of dangerous teams and quality players elsewhere in this division. But Falkirk and Partick Thistle have so much more to throw at this league than any of the others. As Ray McKinnon discovered at the former last season, struggling to make the top two is not an option.


David McCracken and Lee Miller have been the Bairns' co-management team since November 2019 and were unbeaten in the league between then and lockdown. That record surely won't last, but given they've been able to sign Blair Alston - Blair Alston! - Aidan Keena, Callumn Morrison and Scott Mercer to play in League One they have every right to fancy their chances.


The problem for them is that like last year with Raith Rovers, they aren't the only big fish in this pond. Ian McCall has won at this level before with Ayr United and will feel he can repeat that feat with a Thistle squad that retained impressive strikers Zak Rudden and Brian Graham and quality midfielders Stuart Bannigan, Shea Gordon and Joe Cardle. A defence containing Thomas O'Ware, Darren Brownlie and newbie Ciaran McKenna should be solid enough and the arrival of Salim Kouider-Aissa and Blair Spittal on loan means depth shouldn't be a problem.


Airdrie are the other full-time(ish) club which should mean they are the best bet for third spot. Griffin Sabatini (an Argentinian loaned from a Ukrainian club, as you do) and Thomas Robert (son of Laurent) are surely the most curious signings in the SPFL this summer but they have held onto most of the squad that had got into the playoff places last season. Manager Ian Murray has plenty of quality up front with Calum Gallagher, Dale Carrick, Ally Roy, Eoghan Stokes and Kyle Connell so how far they can go will depend on how well they defend.


Montrose again did an amazing job of punching above their weight last season - apparently the reason that esteemed boss Stewart Petrie hasn't gone on to better things is that he has a plush day job - and have performed the remarkable feat of not losing a  single senior player from last season (other than loanees going back to parent clubs). The return of Blair Lyons to Partick is somewhat offset by the homecoming of Martin Rennie, and this experienced, well-coached and well-drilled bunch will again look to put 'bigger' clubs to shame.


Further north, Cove Rangers are not simply aiming to make up the numbers in the third tier after two consecutive promotions. Paul Hartley's side are ambitious, signing Motherwell duo Adam Livingstone and Jamie Semple (on loan) and bringing Leighton McIntosh back to Scotland. Of course, Fraser Fyvie, Mitch Megginson and Rory McAllister are still here too. It would surprise few people if they ended up closer to the top than the bottom.


East Fife have finished between fifth and seventh in four straight seasons but it seems like Darren Young's job is getting harder every year. Highly-rated striker Anton Dowds has moved onto full-time football but that may be offset by the loan signing of Livingston's Jack Hamilton. Veteran Danny Swanson should have enough nous to shine in the third tier and joins an already experienced bunch that includes Chris Higgins and Stewart Murdoch at the back and blogger extraordinaire Danny Denholm on the wing.


In contrast Clyde clearly aim to push on in their second season back in League One. Bringing back defender Tom Lang and midfielder Ross Cunningham permanently looks like a coup for a team that will always be dangerous as long as David Goodwillie is up front. He scored twenty league goals last season but no-one else managed more than two. Whilst there has been a lack of attacking reinforcements, Lang, Jamie Bain and Matthew Shiels should strengthen the backline.


It was a tumultous offseason at Dumbarton, where Jim Duffy had a heart attack in June (he has thankfully recovered) and budget decisions were put off longer than most. That meant the exit of regulars like Joe McKee and Kyle Hutton, but they still have Ross Forbes pulling the strings and he now has Denny Johnstone leading the line in front of him. Getting Sam Wardrop back permanently at right-back was a boost and young Hearts defender Chris Hamilton could do very well on loan.


Arguably Peterhead had the trickiest summer of the lot; a club that in the past offered better part-time wages than most found themselves being gazumped somewhat by others; a number of players left for League Two or ambitious Lowland League sides instead. Evergreen centre-back Gary McKenzie and forward Isaac Layne are the names that stand out amongst the new boys, while they have taken a chance on futsal star Derryn Kesson and will need big contributions from young loan players from the Dundee clubs.


And finally Forfar Athletic have been super busy in the last few months as Stuart Malcolm looks to put his stamp on a squad he inherited in November. The pick of the twelve new signings are midfielder Mark Hill, ex-St Johnstone skipper Steven Anderson and attacking trio Jordan Allan, Archie Thomas and Scott Shepherd who step up from League Two. Malcolm will hope that he can prove his success in charge of East Kilbride was no fluke.


So here's my (inevitably wrong) prediction of how the table will finish:

1. PARTICK THISTLE


2. FALKIRK

3. AIRDRIE

4. COVE RANGERS


5. MONTROSE

6. CLYDE

7. FORFAR ATHLETIC

8. DUMBARTON


9. EAST FIFE


10. PETERHEAD


Make sure you take a screenshot so you can remind me of this in May...


Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.


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