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Friday 10th August 2012

IRN-BRU SFL First Division Championship.......Hopes, aspirations and challengers

The representatives of the 30 SFL clubs who attended the opening season event were, as well as posing for the obligatory team picture, asked what their hopes and aspirations were for the season ahead and who they saw as the clubs that would challenge in the top half of the table.

The representatives of the 30 SFL clubs who attended the opening season event were, as well as posing for the obligatory team picture, asked what their hopes and aspirations were for the season ahead and who they saw as the clubs that would challenge in the top half of the table.

Their responses indicated that a host of clubs can win the First Division, a similar situation in the Second Division and a very strong favourite for the Third.


Airdrie United: Position last season – 4th in Second Division and First Division Play-Off runners-up.

New arrivals - Kenny Arthur, Alan Cook, Paul di Giacomo, Grant Evans, Gavin Griffin, Michael Hart, Christian McKenna, Marc Warren.

Airdrie United Manager, Jimmy BoyleDiamonds' Manager Jimmy Boyle said: "We were obviously planning for a season in the Second Division and have had to change things around quite a bit since we were moved up a division.  We have had a mixed start with a really good win at Hamilton and then a poor performance when we lost to Queen's Park.

"We have brought players in late and their lack of match fitness showed against Queen's and we need to get everyone up to full fitness quickly.  We defended really well against Hamilton but poorly in our second game and if we defend poorly in the First Division, then we will struggle.

"It is difficult to pick out a winner as a lot of teams will challenge.  Thistle looked good when we took part in their pre-season tournament, Dunfermline will want to go straight back up and Falkirk performed well last season.

"Add Hamilton, Livingston and Morton into that and you have more than half the division as potential winners."

Cowdenbeath: Position last season – Second Division Champions

New arrivals - Ruben Garcia Rey, Jamie Stevenson

Goalkeeping Coach, Craig Wight, commented: "I have only just joined Cowdenbeath and I am joining at the start of a very exciting challenge for the club.  Some of the players were in the First Division a couple of years ago and they want to reverse the outcome they had then when they found themselves relegated.

"They feel that they did not do themselves justice during that season and they want to show what they can really do this time out.  Some of them also see it as an opportunity to earn a move to full-time football in the same manner that Darren MacGregor and Jon Robertson have.

"Things are a bit different in the First Division this season as you have three part-time sides in the division with Airdrie, Dumbarton and ourselves.  There are usually just one or two at the most and they are automatic favourites to go down.

"We will look to do our best in these circumstances and my view is that it is better not to waste time worrying about that and over analyse things but work hard on the nights when we are together.

"It will be a really tight division but one we are looking forward to challenging in.

"I am not sure who will be in the top half as I have not been looking that far up the table, we are just concentrating on ensuring that First Division football is with the club again next season."

Dumbarton: Position last season –  3rd in Second Division and First Division Play-Off winners 

New arrivals - Ross Forsyth, Garry Fleming, Andy Graham, Jim Lister, Steven McDougall, Phil Johnston

Dumbarton Manager, Alan AdamsonManager Alan Adamson said: "If we stay in the First Division, it will be a marvellous achievement.  Having three part-time teams makes the First Division a bit different this season as being part-time usually puts instant pressure on you.  We will just need to see how that particular battle goes.

"We played Queen of the South in The Ramsdens Cup at the start of the season and that was very interesting as they are the standard of team that I am expecting us to meet week in, week out now.  They were a good yardstick and although we lost 1-0, there was not a huge gap between us which is very encouraging.

"Dunfermline and Falkirk will not be far away from the top and Livingston, who had a great result on Saturday at Stranraer, look to be very strong going forward.  Some people reckon that the division will split into two with a battle for promotion and a battle to avoid relegation but football is never that straightforward.

"However it goes, if we come in eighth place, we will be happy."

Dunfermline Athletic: Position last season – 12th place in the SPL

New arrivals -  Ivan D'angelo, Craig Dargo, El Bakhtaoui Faissal, Josh Falkingham, Andy Geggan, Stephen Husband, Michal Hrivnak, Stephen Jordan, Chris Kane, Ryan Wallace

Dunfermline Athletic Assistant Manager, Gerry McCabeAssistant Manager, Gerry McCabe, reflected: "Dunfermline came down last season and people will look at us and think we could be a strong favourite to go straight back up but I don't really see it that way.

"A lot has changed, a lot of players have left, a lot of players have come in and you have to remember that the First Division is a tough division.

"The last time Dunfermline came down, it took four years to get back to the SPL, which shows you how hard a division it is.  In saying that, we will give it a real go with an exciting young team and I am looking forward to seeing how we get on.

"We have brought in Josh Falkingham, who used to be at St. Johnstone and Arbroath, and he has looked the part and Ryan Wallace has an opportunity to grab goals at a higher level that he is keen to take.

"It will be tough but these guys will benefit from playing with the three experienced Andys of Barrowman, Dowie and Kirk.

"I expect Partick Thistle to challenge as they have looked good in the two games they have played so far and Morton have recruited a lot of experience from us with Martin Hardie, Kevin Rutkiewicz and David Graham going there so they will do well.

"Falkirk are a year older and wiser so it will be a hard division and we want to be in there challenging.  We are disappointed at coming down but the First Division is a very good division."

Falkirk: Position last season – 3rd in First Division

New arrivals - Johnny Flynn, Andy Haworth, Luke Leahy, Ryan McGeever, Chris Smith, Lyle Taylor

Falkirk Manager, Steven PressleyManager Steven Pressley said: "We are looking to challenge at the top end of the division again, although I am not going to state any specific goal as I reckon that four or five teams will think they have an opportunity to win the division this season.

"I would like to think we are among them but the First Division has been incredibly competitive over recent seasons and this new season will be the same.

"We are still a young side with the average age in the squad of 19 and that puts things into perspective.  The players have had a years' experience now so hopefully, they can kick on from that.

"Bringing youngsters on continues to be the long term strategy of the club but there is no point in burdening them with too much expectation but we do want them to make an impact.

"Early signs are that we will score goals with Lyle Taylor netting a few in pre-season and then opening his account in both cups with three goals in two games so the signs are good.  He is a terrific lad, an intelligent player and one we are excited about being at the club.

"I reckon four or five teams will be challenging for the title.  Partick will be there under Jackie McNamara's guidance and John Hughes has put together an exciting side in Livingston.  Allan Moore has made astute signings of experienced players and I would say that these three are strong contenders.

"Hamilton, like ourselves, have a young side but can compete and then you have Dunfermline, who have a very experienced Manager who will want to take them straight back up.

"Whoever emerges from that list will be very good Champions."

Hamilton Academical: Position last season - 4th in First Division

New arrivals - Kevin Cuthbert, Darian MacKinnon, Jon McShane, Jon RoutledgeHamilton Academical Manager, Billy Reid

Manager Billy Reid commented: "I never set targets and I would not do it this season especially with the young squad, and I mean very young squad, that we have at the moment.

"What I will guarantee though is that we will play in the right manner and we are looking to get the League season off to a good start.  Having Alex Neil available to us is hugely important and he got 30 minutes under his belt last weekend so hopefully, he can start the League season as it would be a big, big boost to us.

"Having Jon Routledge back is another boost and he is an important signing and in fact, I have signed him four times in his career now.  He made another debut for us against Annan last weekend and scored as well as winning the Man of the Match  award.

"It will also be a big season for striker Jon McShane after scoring nine times in 18 games last season on loan to us from St. Mirren.  We have brought him to the club on a permanent basis now and I believe he has more in his locker and he can be a very useful target man for us in the First Division.  He is big, strong and is a real goal threat and could be a real handful for the defences we face.

"It will be a very open First Division this season and I am not sure myself who the favourites are but hopefully, Hamilton will emerge as one."

Livingston: Position last season – 5th in First Division

New arrivals - Anthony Andreu, David Luongo, Jordan Morton

First Team Coach, Gareth Evans, said: "Our aim this season is to be the best we can be.  We want to improve the players in our squad especially the younger ones and it would be great to have that batch of young players playing the best that they can in the manner we want.

"We have brought in a couple of French players who have been playing in Switzerland and hopefully, they can adapt to life in Scotland quickly and also adapt to the way the game is played here.  If they do, they will make a great impact.

Up at the top of the division, I think you will find Dunfermline, who have just come down from the SPL, and Morton, who have recruited really well.  They are the two teams I think will be there or thereabouts."

Morton: Position last season – 8th in First Division

New arrivals - Willie Dyer, David Gaston, David Graham, Jordan Halsman, Martin Hardie, Mark McLaughlin, Jason Naismith, Craig Reid, Kevin Rutkiewicz, Stephen Stirling, Scott Taggart, Kyle Wilkie

Morton Manager, Allan MooreManager Allan Moore commented: "Our aspiration, of course, is to win the division but I can't see it being a one horse race like last season.  Ross County ran away with it by a mile and whilst Dundee looked like they would be strong contenders, they are in the SPL now too.

"We have built a strong squad and a lot has been made about the experienced players I have brought in but we have added a number of youngsters as well with Jordan Halsman coming on board aged 20, Stephen Stirling at 21 and Scott Taggart at just 19.

"Hopefully, we have got a good balance between youth and experience as some of our moves are gambles and I am hopeful that they will pay off.

"We have got some of the guys in knowing that we might not get 36 games out of them but if we can get 25 games from the likes of Martin Hardie and Kevin Rutkiewicz, it will be a real boost.  Big Mark McLaughlin is a local boy who is keen to play for us and it is great to have him on board and he will make a big impact alongside a fit again Peter MacDonald.

"This season a number of clubs will fancy themselves as challengers and I include us in that list along with Hamilton, Falkirk, Partick Thistle, Livingston and Dunfermline."

Partick Thistle: Position last season – 6th in First Division

New arrivals - James Craigen, Steven Lawless, Aaron Muirhead, Hugh Murray, Sean Welsh

Partick Thistle Manager, Jackie McNamaraManager Jackie McNamara commented: "Our hope is to win the division although I am not going to start shouting about our chances as there are a lot of teams in with a chance.  We have not put in a real challenge for the title for a number of seasons and it would be great to change that.

"We have added the experience of Hugh Murray and Sean Welsh, who we knew from a loan spell with us, and also young guys like Steven Lawless and Aaron Muirhead who have played a lot of SFL games already.

"James Craigen, who started off at Preston North End, has also joined from the Scottish Universities side and he is a talented player so I am excited about the season.

"As for title winners, Morton have added experience and a lot of height and strength to their team, Livingston will be up there and I would imagine that Falkirk, Hamilton and Dunfermline will challenge as well.

"The First Division is going to be really strong this season."

Raith Rovers: Position last season – 7th in First Division

New arrivals – Grant Anderson, Stuart Anderson, Pat Clarke, Eddie Malone, Greig Spence, Jason Thomson

Raith Rovers Manager, Grant MurrayManager Grant Murray said: "We finished last season on a winning run that moved us up the table to seventh place and I want us to build on that.

"John McGlynn had already adopted a policy of fine tuning the squad before he moved to Hearts and I have carried that on.  The majority of players that we have brought in are attack minded as we want to go out and win more games in what will be a very competitive division.

A good start will be essential to any team that wants to go for the title and there will be a few teams out to mount a challenge.  Morton and Partick Thistle will both fancy a stronger season this time out after being in this division for a number of seasons but Dunfermline will look to bounce back straight away.

"Falkirk will be in there as well and Livingston have the makings of a good side so there are a lot of good, in fact very good, teams in this division."