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2023/24 Scottish League Two preview


hislopsoffsideagain

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With no moneybags team in League Two right now it's decidedly harder to predict who is going to win it. Last season I suggested Forfar Athletic, who ended up looking like relegation candidates until they changed manager. Having a good (or terrible) boss, or being the team with the striker that scores twenty goals are the sort of factors that can have an exponential effect at this level.


And so we segue rather clumsily straight onto ELGIN CITY, who nearly finished bottom last season and have made Ross Draper player-manager after he oversaw the last few matches of the previous campaign. And they have lost their 'striker that scores twenty goals', Kane Hester. More than ever their relative remoteness geographically makes bringing in players tough; so far they have made three loan signings and their only permanent newcomer is from the Highland League. I was right about Albion Rovers coming tenth last season and I feel pretty confident about condemning Elgin this time around.


If someone is going to 'outdo' Elgin in the stinker stakes it might be CLYDE, relegated from League One via the playoffs last season but who appear more likely to be in danger of back-to-back relegations than yo-yoing back to League One. They are another side with a rookie in the dugout - Brian McLean - and they will have a heavy dependence on Martin Rennie for goals and they will need veteran midfielders Stuart Carswell and Ross Forbes to wind the clock back a fair bit. Sticking by the same backline that got them relegated last season also seems like a bold move, Cotton.


Of course PETERHEAD were even worse than Clyde last season but they pivoted to their (also inexperienced) co-player managers Jordan Brown and Ryan Strachan sooner and have signed forward Kieran Shanks permanently from Arbroath; he showed enough in a loan spell last season to suggest he might do very well for them. Scott Ross and Joe McKee add experience to the backline and midfield and guys like Andy McCarthy and Conor O'Keefe should shine at this level. Whether this is enough to get them into the promotion fight is another matter.


As the side newly promoted from the fifth tier (after only just overcoming Albion Rovers) THE SPARTANS should probably be more likely to finish in the bottom half but in truth they are a bit of an unknown to those of us who only looked ever at the Lowland League table to see if the B teams were struggling. They'll obviously be no mugs, and they've augmented last year's team with SPFL experience in Ayrton Sonkur, James Craigen and Danny Denholm. And they have Blair Henderson up front, who could well end up being League Two's top scorer, so I'd be surprised if they didn't establish themselves in the big leagues.


BONNYRIGG ROSE ATHLETIC only clinched survival on the last day of 2022/23, but Robbie Horn's side looked more comfortable and astute as they gained more experience in their first SPFL season. Whether they have improved the squad much - beyond goalkeeper Paddy Martin - is another matter. As with so many of their peers, the form of the first choice number nine - Kieran McGachie in the Rosey Posey's case - could well be worth several positions in the table.


STRANRAER were only marginally better than Bonnyrigg Rose, pulling away from danger after putting Scott Agnew in the dugout for the last few games. Agnew was an intelligent creative player and there is optimism that this will translate to his team. Ben Armour and Tam Orr should provide a goal threat, while they did well to poach full-back Cammy Williamson from promoted Annan. But how good - or not - their campaign is probably depends on how competent the manager is.


Ditto DUMBARTON, whose boss Stevie Farrell has had two full seasons in charge; the first resulted in relegation from League One and the second saw a massive lead blown to Stirling in the title race. Most of their other concerns are off the pitch: filing their accounts late recently is a wee bit of a red flag, whilst the decision to share their pitch again (this time with Broomhill instead of Rangers B) has gone down like a lead balloon. The flip side is that this is a very good squad. Goalkeeper Brett Long, a backline with Aron Lynas, Mark Durnan, Sean Crighton and Carlo Pignatiello, Ryan Blair and Ross MacLean in midfield and Ryan Wallace up front should give them more than enough quality to win the title. Perhaps it is theirs to lose, but it's easy to see how they'll lose it. Again.


FORFAR ATHLETIC arguably have the manager with the most impressive CV in the division, but only because Ray MacKinnon's move to coach under Duncan Ferguson at Forest Green fell through when Ferguson got the sack. MacKinnon came back with his tail between his legs and continued his rebuild of a side that were relegation candidates till he arrived in November. The permanent signings of Dundee United trio Adam Hutchinson, Finn Robson and Darren Watson, all of whom were on loan here last season, look good but Forfar seem desperately short up front with only Josh Skelly, plucked from Broughty Athletic, a recognised centre forward. If they can recruit well in that area in the next few weeks they should be there or thereabouts.


STENHOUSEMUIR look rather more settled these days than when Stephen Swift was wheeler-dealing like a poundshop Harry Redknapp; just the nine signings so far this summer with keeper Darren Jamieson, defenders Gregor Buchanan and Ross Meechan and midfielder Jordan Kirkpatrick looking like the standouts. Stenny's obvious weakness right now is numbers, but one can imagine this squad being augmented by a few loanees in the coming weeks and Gary Naysmith leading them in a promotion challenge.


Generally though the bookies seem to fancy EAST FIFE to do the business. Greig MacDonald seemed an unusual choice as coach last season but generally did well; it helps that they got Nathan Austin back to add to what was already a pretty overpowered front line. Brian Easton adds experience in defence (though he didn't half look past it at Hamilton last year) and with the experience of Allan Fleming and Stewart Murdoch among others they look pretty well set to compete at the top.

 

So here's my predicted table, though my caveat would be that I think the top four are all potential title challengers, Elgin look hot favourites for the drop and you could probably put the other five clubs in any order you like.


1 EAST FIFE


2 DUMBARTON

3 FORFAR ATHLETIC

4 STENHOUSEMUIR


5 PETERHEAD

6 STRANRAER

7 THE SPARTANS

8 BONNYRIGG ROSE ATHLETIC

9 CLYDE


10 ELGIN CITY


Remember to bookmark this and use it against me in the coming months.


PS Here's the Twitterati view...



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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