This weekend saw the return of football for the masses. The SPL has kicked off early with managers equally kicking off early in protest at how early they have to er … kick off early! But whilst the SPL clubs debate which of the two biggest clubs are due the prize of the league championship this year clubs down in the lower reaches are ready for some genuine challenges and real contests to see who can win the three other league prizes on offer. But before we begin that we have not one but TWO cup competitions as warm ups. Commonly known as the diddy cup and the diddy, diddy cup, the newly crowned Scottish Communities Cup (Formerly the CIS Cup) and the Ramsden’s Cup (Formerly the ALBA Challenge Cup) both start this month.
The Ramsden Cup was up first and fans got the chance in a competitive fixture to analyse how their teams were shaping up for the season ahead. The announcement that the final shall this year be held in April as it was last year is to be welcomed. Apparently this is due to the beautiful weather and the fans liking football in the sunshine… almost an argument for summer football from the SFL there…
The competition is initially broken geographically into two sections so that travel costs are not onerous for smaller clubs. This weekend fixtures not already covered by Scotzine therefore looked like follows: –
Deveronvale 1 Stirling Albion 3
This kicked off at 1pm Saturday due to one of the players getting married so the kick off was brought forward to allow his playing pals to get to the reception! It also marked the first ever inclusion of two Highland League sides to the competition which evens up the numbers and increases the clamour for a pyramid system in Scottish football.
Jocky Scott’s summer, with trials on the pitch and fan power bedding in off it has been headline grabbing so it was good for the Binos to get passed this potentially tricky tie. In the end Lewis Bonar managed two goals to help them ease pass the Highland League club. Deveronvale did manage to get one back early in the second half but Stirling’s McPherson restored the two goal cushion only five minutes later.
Brechin City 1 Falkirk 2
“Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!” Like an episode of Dad’s Army Stephen Pressley has been running round the Falkirk dressing room telling everyone it’s all under control. Losing as many as nine players and replacing them with … not very many meant that a new look Falkirk took the pitch at Glebe Park. Their pre season preparations have not been great but when the whistle goes for real action Elvis was determined to show us what’s what…
Jim Weir meanwhile, with a club that constantly plays bridesmaid in the play offs has pretensions of going one better and certainly saw this as a good litmus test for progress. Brechin have had an excellent pre season but Falkirk proved to be too much for them with two goals – including Darren Dods’ first for the Bairns sinking their Cup hopes. David McKenna did manage one back but what seemed like a comfortable win for Falkirk augurs well for Pressley’s rebuilding claims.
Raith Rovers 2 Cowdenbeath 1
This was an intriguing tie which saw the two Fife rivals up against each other. Raith were looking for a springboard to mount their third real challenge in three years for the First Division title whilst Cowdenbeath, under new management, were looking to prepare for the Second Division assault which brings them back to the very same First Division.
John McGlynn had used pre season experimentally as the results have been all over the place – almost as much as his substitutions and whilst the results won’t always delight fans – especially in the Gilvenbank Hotel Football Festival at Bayview, McGlynn is no mug. Cowdenbeath meanwhile have been flying pre season beating not one, nor two but THREE SPL sides.
Ultimately it was Raith that triumphed with John Baird chipping in two whilst substitute Lewis Coult gave Cowdenbeath hope with 10 minutes remaining but Raith ran out 2-1 winners in the end.
Forfar Athletic 1 Buckie Thistle 1 (Forfar Athletic won 5-4 on penalties)
The second Highland League team to compete this year was Buckie Thistle and they proved to be a stern test for the Loons. Forfar’s pre season has not been good and Buskie Thistle came very close to providing a shock.
Since losing their first pre season game four nil to Brechin City, Highland League champions, Buckie had improved greatly including holding a young Inverness Caledonian Thistle side to a three all draw. Forfar had to depend on their keeper displaying penalty kick heroics after Graham Gibson had put them ahead in the first half but Buckie equalised five minutes later through Craig MacMillan. As extra time couldn’t separate them penalties loomed and the only spot kick saved was by Loons’ keeper Greg Paterson meaning that Forfar have negotiated their first tricky tie of the season.
Peterhead 2 Alloa Athletic 2 (Peterhead won 5-4 on penalties)
This was another intriguing tie as the two Third Division sides who last year were second divisions sides met for the first time in the season. John Sheran has quietly gone about the business of rebuilding Peterhead and the pre season games have been all right for his side.
On the other hand Alloa under Paul Hartley have taken full advantage of Hartley’s contacts and his undoubted knowledge of the game to make quite a noise around SFL3. Winning the Oban Tournament as well as bringing in plenty of new faces including Armand One and Darren Young made them clear favourites for a return to the Second Division but also for this tie.
In the end it was penalties that sealed their fate as Darren Young missed his allowing Peterhead past. It was nip and tuck as Alloa went ahead through Ryan McCord before Bryan Beasley scored for Peterhead. Rory McAllister put Peterhead in front in the second half but Maxwell Wright levelled the tie for Alloa. No goals in extra time meant the lottery of penalties and it was John Sheran’s side that triumphed.
Ross County 1 Elgin City 2
The return to Ross County of Derek Adams was quite a surprise but his work over the summer has left few in doubt that he is serious about rebuilding the Staggies. Pre season has been very good and County went into the match high in confidence. In the end it was slightly misplaced.
Elgin City were also very confident having lost only one pre season game but their victories have all been against Highland League opposition making it look like they were ill prepared. In the end Derek Adams is now more aware of what a rebuilding job he needs to do as Ross County crashed out. County even went ahead first with Scott Morrison putting them in front as early as the second minute. Elgin fought back with a 36th minute strike from Brian Cameron and then a 60th minute goal from Stuart Leslie.
Montrose 1 East Fife 6
Montrose enjoyed a really decent pre season and may have been looking forward to a league campaign that shouldn’t be any worse than the last few but this will send them back to the drawing board! They found themselves up against an East Fife team under John Robertson that were on fire. The Fifers had a hat trick from Robert Ogley, and one each from Bobby Linn, Ryan Wallace and Lloyd Young whilst Stephen McPhee managed an impressive consolation for Montrose.
Arbroath 1 Dundee 2 (After Extra Time)
Paul Sheerin’s second year as manager is likely to be as intriguing as Barry Smith’s! This was yet another intriguing tie and whilst Smith is out to prove that last year was no fluke, whilst Sheerin is keen to keep Arbroath in the Second. Dundee needed an extra time winner from Stephen O’Donnell whilst Gavin Swankie impressed as well as Arbroath keeper Darren Hill who was called into action a great deal. The goals in normal time were late, Jordan Elfverson put the home side ahead in the 77th minute before a minute later Steven Milne equalised. Dundee through but more than a little nervousness at Dundee.
Clyde 2 Berwick Rangers 2 (Berwick Rangers won 4-3 on penalties)
Two Third Division sides and the rebuilding exercise at Clyde has gone on apace over the summer. Clyde certainly hope to be a better prospect this year than last and the pre season has gone reasonably well. Broadwood was a happy hunting ground last year for Berwick Rangers. Some of Jimmy Crease’s signings for the new season have been impressive and it was another happy hunting spree for Berwick as they managed to hold off Clyde after going two up. Lee Currie and Damon Gray had put them two up before Daniel Fitzpatrick and Stephen McDonald levelled. A goalless period of extra time meant penalties and Clyde’s Scullion missed his second penalty of the game – having missed one in regulation time – as well as Craig Tully also missing from the spot.
Stranraer 0 Morton 8
Allan Moore travelled down the coast with a very different squad to the one with which he finished last season. He bemoaned during last season the lack of goal scorers and was looking to his new signings to buck that trend – Oh how did they reward him!
Keith Knox has brought in some decent signings including Chris Aitken and Stewart Devine though he has lost some good players in Armand One and Scott Agnew. It was thought that this should be a comfortable Morton win but nobody would have guessed how comfortable. New signings Paul Di Giacomo and Andy Jackson managed four apiece as Morton went goal crazy at Stranraer.
Albion Rovers 0 Annan Athletic 2
A repeat of the Second Division play off final was worth a visit and gave us a different outcome than the final. Paul Martin had eschewed big game friendlies and built a solid squad for this coming year – many familiar faces are back but they couldn’t beat an Annan side that also had familiar faces ion their squad. Annan had a good pre season and Ian Harty who had just resigned managed to cement victory in the 81st minute after David Cox had given the visitors a first half lead.