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2023/24 Scottish League One Preview


hislopsoffsideagain

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Whereas in League Two the difference in budget between richest and poorest is pretty minimal, League One has four clubs who are full time - Cove Rangers, Falkirk, Hamilton Accies and Queen of the South - and six clubs who savour bloodying their noses regularly. So while I make no apology for my choice of the top four it is quite easy to see it going spectacularly wrong for each of them.


Take FALKIRK, for example. It's like the Bairns have been given a special demotivational plaque by Mr Burns. Surely their fifth straight season in League One will be their last? We shall see. John McGlynn brought in Tom Lang and Brad Spencer from his former club Raith Rovers and they should be more than capable, and given they already boast the likes of Coll Donaldson, Stephen McGinn, Callumn Morrison and Gary Oliver there are no excuses. But then we've said that before...


COVE RANGERS won this division in 2021-22 before stinking up the second half of last season in the Championship. So they've responded by going full-time and giving Paul Hartley - whose record in recruitment at previous clubs was not exactly stellar - the chance to practically sign a new team. Paul McGowan and Connor Scully are probably the best centre midfield pairing in the league and Mitch Megginson can be relied on for goals, but the jury is out on a backline that will mostly be made up of newbies.


Having been a Premiership side as recently as 2021, HAMILTON ACCIES need to arrest the slide...and they might do so after new ownership was followed by an influx of new blood that leaves them with a far stronger team than the one that got relegated from the Championship last season. They've stuck by manager John Rankin despite the drop, but he'll be expected to get a tune out of the likes of Dylan Tait, Euan Henderson and Kevin O'Hara; signing an entirely new defence is not a bad move either but they may take time to gel. Still, it feels like things can't get any worse (famous last words).


QUEEN OF THE SOUTH showed some signs of life after Marvin Bartley became manager and they look to have recruited wisely - particularly getting keeper Murray Johnson and central defender Kyle McClelland on loan from Hibs. Dumfries is the latest stop for Efe Ambrose, who is heading inexorably towards a career climax in 2026 where he becomes a cult hero for an Angus club by scoring a crucial goal with a bullet header in a relegation playoff that saves his club's SPFL status before walking off into the sunset (niche Marvin Andrews reference there). If Bartley can coax Lee Connelly and Gavin Reilly back to their best then they will be dangerous.


Of the part-time clubs, ALLOA ATHLETIC look the strongest, not least because they made the promotion playoffs last season. Brian Rice is an astute coach and continues to get plenty out of veterans Andy Graham (40 in September!) and Conor Sammon (37 in November). Sammon and Luke Donnelly give them a potent threat up top. They have had to replace most of last season's starting backline though and they had a pretty lousy League Cup campaign, so a regression is not that unlikely.


EDINBURGH CITY looked like playoff candidates for most of the season but hit the skids, winning only three of their last sixteen games. Now they've lost all four League Cup group games too. John Robertson and Steven Warnock, arguably their two greatest attacking threats, have moved on, and while a summer takeover by a fan-led consortium has been blamed for Alan Maybury's failure to reinforce much, the bottom line is it is hard to give them the benefit of the doubt right now. Still, the combined creativity of Danny Handling and Innes Murray makes them worth a watch.


It's mental that MONTROSE are in their sixth straight season at this level, and frankly its all down to the awesome management of Stewart Petrie. Last year felt like a step backward though, with a feeling that they had hit their ceiling and Petrie was finding it hard to refresh a settled squad that had done so well for so long. And that feeling has caused them to splash out - with a transfer fee and everything! - to sign League Two goal machine Kane Hester to give them a spark. How far can he and the evergreen Rory MacAllister fire them? We'll see.


By the far the biggest turnover has been at KELTY HEARTS, where Michael Tidser replaced John Potter at the end of last season and set about basically gutting the entire squad; only eight players plus the player-boss himself remain. I'm always wary about how long it takes a team to gel and a lot of the newbies are guys who have blown hot-and-cold at this level in the past. The dream is that Tiwi Daramola, who scored an insane number of goals for Bo'ness Athletic last season, can do it at this level; four in four League Cup games is a good start.


And lastly we come on to the promoted teams, both of whom have largely stuck with the group that got them up. STIRLING ALBION looked like a League One team last season and only needed to tinker; getting Dale Hilson in up front to partner Dale Carrick looks like an astute move. A couple of decent loan signings could make Darren Young's side very competitive very quickly in a division where former League Two champions have a recent history of back-to-back promotions.


It's likely to be a lot harder for ANNAN ATHLETIC. Peter Murphy's side have punched above their weight for years but going up via the playoffs was astonishing. They have a close-knit bunch and crucially, a talented striker in Tommy Goss. But it's a sign of where they are at that they lost one of their starting defenders, Cammy Williamson, to Stranraer. It's hard to look at them and fancy them for anything other than a long campaign.


So here's my inevitably wrong predicted table:


1 FALKIRK


2 HAMILTON ACADEMICAL

3 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH

4 STIRLING ALBION


5 COVE RANGERS

6 ALLOA ATHLETIC

7 MONTROSE

8 EDINBURGH CITY


9 KELTY HEARTS


10 ANNAN ATHLETIC



And the Twitter 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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