Pre-season Preview: Spartans go Tartan

By Rory Mitchinson

In just three days time Spartans’ pre-season campaign gets up and running. Hard to believe, isn’t it?!

This year, the Croft Park faithful are in for something of a treat, with a trio of well-known Scottish sides set to make the trip across the border, headed by Premiership outfit St Mirren.

Here, we preview what the Green Army can expect from their opponents, reflecting on how each of them fared last season, and considering what the campaign ahead may have in store.

Cowdenbeath (Saturday 12 July)Boasting one of the most famous nicknames in British football, the Blue Brazil begin their own pre-season itinerary at Croft Park.

The 2013-14 campaign ended in dramatic fashion for the Central Park outfit. After a season of struggle in the Scottish second-tier, Jimmy Nicholl’s side looked set to avoid the lottery of the promotion/relegation play-offs after victories against Livingston and Raith Rovers late in April.

Another win – at home to high-flying Queen of the South on the final day – would have made sure of their Championship status for another year. And, courtesy of Kane Hemmings’ 76th-minute strike, Cowdenbeath looked set to take the three points before a sizeable crowd at their home of almost 100 years. However, six minutes into stoppage time, Daniel Carmichael netted a leveller for the visitors, consigning the Fife side to the play-offs in heartbreaking fashion.

But the Blue Brazil did admirably to rise to the challenge ahead. In their semi-final tie against Ayr United, Cowdenbeath followed up a 1-1 draw in the first-leg with a convincing 3-1 victory at Central Park. With the Honest Men despatched, a daunting two-legged affair with local rivals Dunfermline Athletic lay in wait.

The Pars – a top-flight side as recently as 2012 – had been forced to settle for second-place in the third-tier, missing out on automatic promotion to Rangers. The Fife rivals played out a battling 1-1 draw in the first leg, before Cowdenbeath stunned Jim Jefferies’ side at East End Park, running out 3-0 winners in front of a crowd of more than 8,000.

Now on the same rung of the ladder as Hearts, Hibernian, and of course Rangers, the Blue Brazil have some fantastic paydays to look forward to in the coming campaign. Defenders Darren Brownlie and Iain Campbell have arrived from Partick Thistle and Forfar Athletic respectively, as manager Nicholl looks to shore up the Championship’s leakiest backline, having conceded 72 goals in 36 fixtures last season.

However, with the division set to be more competitive than ever, survival will once again be the name of the game for Cowdenbeath, particularly as striker Hemmings – the division’s second-top goalscorer last season – has left for pastures new, signing a one-year deal with English League One side Barnsley.

Stranraer (Saturday 19 July)Stranraer will be looking to put the disappointment of the 2013-14 season behind them this time around, after narrowly missing put on promotion to the second-tier.

After a 2-1 home success in the first-leg of their play-off tie against Dunfermline, the side from Dumfries & Galloway were looking well-placed for a Final spot heading into the fixture at East End Park. They kept their highly-fancied hosts at bay for the first-half, but fell apart as the afternoon progressed. A strike from Andy Geggan on 59 minutes ensured that extra-time would be played, during which the Blues were blown away – goals from Geggan and Fayssal El-Bakhtaoui ending hopes of a second promotion in three years.

It has been a busy summer at Stair Park, with a host of new additions to the squad. Striker Craig Malcolm, who scored 47 goals in 105 appearances during his first spell at Stranraer, rejoins from Ayr United. Malcolm is joined by a trio of defenders – Barry Russell, Craig Pettigrew and highly-rated Jackson Longridge, who arrive from Albion Rovers, Auchinleck Talbot and Ayr United respectively.

With Rangers out of the way, Scotland’s third-oldest club can perhaps approach the new campaign with cautious optimism. Well-supported sides Greenock Morton and the aforementioned Pars will perhaps be expected to battle it out for the title, but with three play-off spots up for grabs, and after coming so close last year, who is to say that the Blues cannot go one better this time?

St Mirren (Saturday 26 July)Three-time winners of the Scottish Cup, and League Cup victors as recently as 2013, St Mirren are one of the biggest names in Scottish football.

The 2013-14 campaign was a bumpy ride for the Buddies. Although the Paisley side ultimately finished in eighth-place in the Scottish Premiership – a position they have never bettered in recent memory – they left it late to secure their top-flight status, as the implementation of the division’s new relegation format left a string of clubs nervously looking over their shoulders.

After seven defeats in eight, St Mirren were staring down the barrel heading into April. However, the Buddies rediscovered their mojo during the season’s run-in, gathering 12 points from a possible 21 to secure their safety with time to spare. T

The defence of their League Cup crown, however, was rather futile – dumped out at second-tier Queen of the South with the campaign less than a month old.

After four years at the club, manager Danny Lennon bowed out at the end of the last campaign. First-team coach Tommy Craig – once of Newcastle United and a former Scotland international – has taken over the reins ahead of the new season.

Thus far, Craig has overseen a string of departures from the club – including that of former Manchester United midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba. Goalkeeper Mark Ridgers – released by relegated Hearts – became Craig’s first signing at the beginning of the month.

Now firmly established in the Scottish Premiership, St Mirren will be looking to break into the top-half of the division in the season ahead.

With Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibernian dropping out of the top-flight, and with Rangers yet to complete their route back to the top, the coming campaign must surely be regarded as a golden opportunity for the Paisley side. Can they grasp it?

Posted by BSAFC Admin