With all the glamour friendlies over – we did have some right? – Scottish League Football – Brand new dawn, brand new image – is ready for the beginning of a new season and that means some cup action. Predicting what will happen on the back of a round of meaningless games is as easy as trying to predict the next Scottish sporting hero. Much of what is likely to happen will either be an indication of how well the beginning of the season is going to go/a huge wake up call/the manager merely giving youth a chance/an extension of the pre season as formations and personnel are tried to see what will happen in a meaningless competition. No matter who sponsors this cup it is always seen as a distraction until people reach the quarter finals and suddenly it is a reality that your club could win a national trophy and then people get really serious about it then! For now many clubs see it as an irritant.
I have always seen it as a serious competition and therefore as such here is what I think we can look forward to in each of the geographical divisions that will bring us the first round fixtures.
First Round – North East
Tie of the round – Cowdenbeath v Dunfermline Athletic
Whilst there is an all Championship tie in this round I cannot see past the Fife derby that pits the team that fell through the trap door to the 2nd division against the team that escaped it on the final day. Colin Cameron has been busy pre season and the capture or recapture of Kane Hemmings is a good piece of business for him. The club have truly taken on the Cup with special merchandise for the visit of Dunfermline on sale at the club shop. We can expect that the welcome given to their local rivals shall be as fierce as any in this round. Jim Jeffries though knows all about fierce environments. Having steered the Pars through their final months as a 1st division club whilst all around him were losing their heads, Jeffries has sought to keep the heid and get on with things. Pre season they have impressed in terms of their performances; losing to Hearts and Dundee United whilst drawing with Championship side Falkirk for a League 1 team is no disgrace. It is also good preparation for playing a Championship team. I would predict that we have a highly taught encounter that is close. It could go either way and I think it may take more than 90 minutes to separate them.
Next up is Stenhousemuir v Arbroath. Martyn Corrigan has had a difficult pre season with a big loss to Stirling Albion last weekend; having said that the Warriors have always had the ability to surprise. The squad that Corrigan has assembled should be in a much better position this year than last to make an impression in League 1 and the tie against Arbroath will perhaps be more telling than could be imagined. Paul Sheerin, on the other hand has had a great pre season. With the team playing well and having recorded a 1-0 win against Partick Thistle last time out they should be on a roll and that may well see them into the 2nd round here but the Warriors shall have a big say in that and I certainly think it will be a difficult tie for the visitors. Next we have Forfar Athletic v East Fife where the Loons host an all League 1 tie. Dick Campbell has been busy in signing a few names up for the new season that will be familiar to the Forfar faithful but it is the capture of Rab Douglas’s signature that is likely to capture most of the headlines. Pre season has been fairly good and they are looking forward to the beginning of the new season. East Fife will hope that the last season is a very distant memory. With Billy Brown now safely back in the bowels of Tynecastle, they have a new boss in Willie Aitchieson. Aitchieson also has a veteran new boy in the shape of Joe Mbu to parade. Pre season has been tolerable with the draw with Cowdenbeath perhaps the highlight so both are going into this fixture with hopes of progressing. I do believe however that Dick Campbell may be looking forward to the 2nd round draw rather than new boy Aitchieson.
In our first all League 2 tie we go all the way up north with Elgin City v Montrose. Elgin have had a decent pre season even losing by only 1 goal to Rangers! Ross Jack has been fielding a lot of young players so there is some excitement at the prospect of a fairly youthful side making headway from the Highlands in League 2. Montrose have had a mixed pre season with a thrashing from Dundee and well beaten by Brechin City amongst decent wins against Highland league opposition. I would therefore see this being yet another tie that is difficult to call and home advantage may well play a part. The other Highland team in League 2 is involved in Peterhead v Brechin City. These are two teams from which much ought to be expected. Brechin found some free scoring form last season whilst the Blue Toon, without Rangers in League 2, look likely promotion candidates. It is to the visitors I am looking for a win though they will have some absences they should be raring to go. Jim McInally has also managed to bring some fresh faces in during the close season and have managed to beat both Ross County and Aberdeen pre season. This could be high scoring but I think the visitors may just edge it.
It’s an all Championship fight between the 2 new boys in that league – Alloa Athletic v Dundee. This is yet another intriguing tie pulled out of the hat for the first round as the new comers to the Championship from below Alloa have been on quite a roll under Paul Hartley – something that pre season has confirmed is not yet over. Under John Brown, Dundee have certainly been talked about far more than any other club for some time but Brown knows this tie be tough. Alloa go in as underdogs against a team many believe shall win the Championship. I think Alloa shall show up fairly nicely though I do think the Dees shall be too strong. Raith Rovers v Stirling Albion is a tie that Grant Murray’s side will hope to win comfortably. He has assembled a decent 23 man squad that has had a mixed pre season including a poor result against SPL side Hearts. The Binos have had a very encouraging pre season and I think this could be one of the shocks of the first round. Certainly for Stirling anything is better than most of last season – the game at Ibrox aside – and they will want to see things improve in the league but a wee cup bounce could help their first few league fixtures.
Finally in the North East section we have Formartine United v East Stirlingshire. The curious thing about this tie is obviously if this is a portent of things to come then East Stirlingshire might face similar opposition to this in a play off to stay in league 2 – if, of course John Coughlin’s men end back up in bottom spot. The pre season performances of East Stirlingshire have not been great and Formartine must really fancy their chances here. They are looking, under the stewardship of Steve Paterson, to be the first Highland league club to win a Ramsden Cup tie and I quite fancy their chances!
First Round – South West
Tie of the round – Airdrieonians v Hamilton Academical
Unlike the North East section there are fewer rich ties in the south west but here we have one that sees Airdrieonians back in the league business after an absence of many years. There are plenty of opinions on the web and in chat rooms about the league’s decision to allow the name to be resurrected but after a few years who will care a jot – not I! Jimmy Boyle may find his feet in league 1 rather than being in the Championship and the squad he has assembled looks a very rich one on which to draw for league business. In cup terms there are some decent prospects brought in to bolster the confidence of his young charges who just couldn’t keep the club in the 1st division last season. In fact there could be as many as 7 players with Diamond debuts in this game and they will be hoping that their colleagues experience deja vu as Airdrie United put Hamilton out last year with a late goal in round one of this cup. For Alex Neil pre season has bobbed along and the form they showed at the tail end of last season has continued with a squad with a familiar look to last year but without Stevie May who coincidentally scored in the St Johnstone Europa League tie at MacDiarmid mid week. I think it shall be a tough tie for Accies and Airdrie, with a sense of occasion behind them that means more than mere cup progress could see the home side come back as a victorious squad leading to numerous pub quiz teaser questions about which team was put out a cup two years in a row by the same team with a different name…
Next up we turn our attention to Annan Athletic v Greenock Morton. For one of Annan’s squad it will be all about lining up against some familiar faces as Peter Weatherson faces his old team. Of course there shall be absolutely no favour given but Annan’s pre season has hardly sparkled. For Morton they lifted the Renfrewshire Cup last weekend in a game against St Mirren that has underlined their ambitions. Allan Moore may have found his budget cut but that will not limit his ambition any. He will want a winning mentality and that type of approach should see the visitors through to the 2nd round. Another League 2 team with a Championship side visiting can be found in Berwick Rangers v Livingston. It is also another former player up against his old club as former Lion, Ross Gray faces Livi in a Berwick shirt. Ian Little’s side have had a really decent pre season including holding Forfar to a 2-2 draw last weekend and a very decent performance against Oxford United by all accounts. They will fancy their chances. Livingston meanwhile had a slow start in their friendlies though they did take on some stiff opposition from Rumania. They came good in the end beating some Highland league opposition that will have set them up for today. The visitors may squeeze past but it may be a very tight squeeze.
Queen’s Park v Ayr United sees a rare game for the Spiders at home for this season before they move temporarily to Airdrie’s ground whilst Hampden is prepared and then used for the Commonwealth Games. Gardner Speirs is raring to go and with some decent signings been made they will hope to continue their tradition of a passing game and making life difficult for the opposition. Mark Roberts has altered the psyche of his squad from this time last year and the radical transformation in pre season has seen some decent results but nothing to get too carried away by. It is a meaner and hungrier squad and this being their first test they will need to show that they have what it takes to make a decent season of it. I reckon it should be an away victory – but I would, wouldn’t I! Clyde v Falkirk will happen at Broadwood as we have heard little more about moves to East Kilbride though Clyde have had to have most of their pre season games behind closed doors due to the costs associated with opening the ground up to spectators. In some quarters that has not gone down well but it has meant an unfettered pre season for Jim Duffy and a fairly good one – according to him! Falkirk meanwhile have had a fairly OK pre season build up but what is interesting about this tie is that Clyde have had to bring in youth to shore up the squad whilst Falkirk have brought in experience. Bizarrely rather than pick the “Bairns” as the youthful team that might progress it is their experience that ought to show here as the likes of Andy Barrowman and Philip Roberts have been training with the Falkirk squad – Roberts has now signed on.
Down the West Coast we have Stranraer v Dumbarton. The two teams had remarkably similar journeys last year. They both changed managers mid way through – on exactly the same day – and they avoided relegation and the play offs in their respective leagues by the end of the season. Stephen Aitken believes he has strengthened his squad, I am less sure of that. It has to be said that it has been a particularly good pre season and though they lost strike pair Craig Malcolm and Michael Moore they have been banging the goals in. Ian Murray has lifted the Stirlingshire Cup by beating Falkirk over the last fortnight and therefore should have a confident squad going in to today’s game. It is their confidence and their experience that would suggest to me they will progress. I would not, however – and despite my misgivings – be surprised if Stranraer pulled off a wee shock. Our final game of today is also down South West as we have Queen of the South v Spartans. This shall either be the beginning of why did we let Allan Johnston go or Allan who for the Ramsden Cup title holders. From the Doonhamers’ pre season games you would be forgiven for thinking it is the latter as they have taken on SPL opposition and hardly been daunted. Spartans have courted the edge of league involvement for years and will be no mugs when it comes to this round of the Ramsdens. Like at Stranraer I reckon this might be the one in the South West corner of the Ramsdens that might provide us with a wee shock.
The final game of the round is tomorrow at Livingston’s stadium to accommodate Albion Rovers v Rangers. Rangers hardly set the heather alight last season in the cup but they did manage a victory against Motherwell in one of them. It is James Ward’s first senior competitive game and whilst it could be argued it is ‘aw downhill from here’ he will have 11 players desperate to cause an upset. Ally McCoist on the other hand will be wary of Rovers – despite their relegation from the Second Division last season and will miss out on the Rangers pay deal this season for those clubs. The gulf between these two clubs can be measured in pre season. Whilst Rangers were trying out formations abroad, the wee Rovers were banging eight in against St Anthony’s. The kick off is 4.05pm to allow the TV cameras to get a good view and I would be highly surprised if there was an upset in this one.
And for those lucky enough to get past their opponents this weekend the draw for the second round takes place at 3pm on Wednesday 31st July, at the Clydebank Ramsdens Cup shop.