Lowland League: Spartans braced for a fight to retain title

Spartans kick off their title defence against Stirling Uni. Photograph: Steven Scott Taylor

Spartans kick off their title defence against Stirling Uni. Photograph: Steven Scott Taylor

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Lowland League champions Spartans face a mouthwatering opening-day fixture tomorrow against the side they pipped to the title last term.

Stirling University are the visitors to Ainslie Park, just months after they finished four points behind Spartans in the battle for the championship.

Dougie Samuel, the Spartans manager, is anticipating another close finish this season.

“It will certainly be competitive as most of the teams have strengthened their squads,” he said. “It will be extremely difficult for us to retain our title but that is our number one goal for the season.”

Spartans have already started their season having played Morton last Saturday in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup where they narrowly lost 1-0.

“The pleasing thing for us was that we competed well, especially in the second half and we were in the contest right up until the last minute,” said Samuel.

The Ainslie Park manager has been busy during the summer attracting new players to the club.

Goalkeeper Kevin Swain has joined from East of Scotland Premier Division champions Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale, along with defender Craig Stevenson. Whitehill Welfare captain and central defender Michael Bruce has also moved to the North Edinburgh club, while midfielders Michael Herd and Ian Thomson have joined from East Stirlingshire and striker Errol Douglas, who was previously with Craigroyston, has been brought on board.

Samuel said: “I think that last season whetted the appetite of everybody and it was a fantastic start to the Lowland League as a concept. This season it will be all the more difficult to win the title with an additional two hungry sides, Edinburgh University and BSC Glasgow, who have both joined the league.

“Whitehill Welfare have had an excellent pre-season and will be there at the shake-up, as will Edinburgh City, who are my dark horse for the league this season. Their manager, Gary Jardine, has made some really astute signings by bringing in experience and quality to improve the depth of his squad, so I think they will go much closer this season.

“We are looking forward to the challenge and winning the title last year has given us confidence. Hopefully we can be in a position where we can be competing in a play-off come the end of the season, although there will be at least five or six teams in our league who will be dreaming and hoping exactly the same. We would like to get into the Scottish Football League as quickly as possible but we know it won’t be easy.

“However, we also know that everything is in place at Spartans Football Club to reach that target and that destination one day. We hope that it will be sooner rather than later.”

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, Samuel said: “Stirling University are obviously full-time with a squad of players with professional experience and a proven pedigree and track record of playing at a higher level. It will be an extremely difficult game but hopefully we will get a positive result and get our campaign off to the perfect start.”