How the Lothians clubs are shaping up ahead of the 2019/20 East of Scotland League season

Scott Thomson's lowdown on the Lothians clubs in the East of Scotland League ahead of the 2019/20 season

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 3:53 pm
The Lothians teams are gearing up for the 2019/20 East of Scotland season
The Lothians teams are gearing up for the 2019/20 East of Scotland season

The Junior clubs certainly came to conquer with their mass exodus to the East of Scotland League last season.

Not one original member of the East of Scotland League will line-up in the top tier this season, with the 16-team Premier Division containing 15 former Junior clubs and Whitehill Welfare, who dropped down from the Lowland League - eventually - after the SFA finally saw sense, giving in to political and public pressure to hand East of Scotland champions Bonnyrigg Rose their licence.

That decision gave all the clubs a massive boost in what is a wide-open league, with most believing they will have a real shout of competing at the top end of the table.

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Penicuik Athletic and Broxburn Athletic, who both attained SFA membership status ahead of Bonnyrigg in May after competing with the New Dundas Park men in the three-way title play-off, will be seen as the teams to beat, with the former in particular having completed some shrewd transfer business over the close season.

We take a look at how all the local Premier Division clubs are shaping up ahead of the opening round of fixtures this Saturday.

BO'NESS UNITED

Manager: Max Christie

Key signing: Youngster Ryan Stevenson, who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Newtown Park from Raith Rovers, rejected offers from clubs further up the ladder to sign permanently with the BUs. The 20-year-old midfielder was key to Bo’ness’ end of season form as they won 17 out of 17 under Christie and lifted the King Cup.

Notable departure: Striker Allan MacKenzie has returned to the West Juniors after a two season stint with Bo’ness, joining Ayrshire outfit Darvel FC.

Area to strengthen: Bo’ness don’t have the biggest squad and will be looking to bring in extra bodies to provide themselves with strength in depth for a long season.

Prediction: Top four

BROXBURN ATHLETIC

Manager: Brian McNaughton

Key signing: McNaughton has showed faith in last season’s Conference C winning squad with no new faces. Retaining the services of midfielder Craig Scott will be key, as ‘Scholesy’ makes the Brox tick from the centre of the park.

Notable departure: Only one player has left from last season, Nathan Donnelly, although he didn’t feature much as he was injured.

Area to strengthen: The Albyn Park men surprisingly haven’t made any signings as of yet, but should have enough about them to still compete at the top end of the table. Any new addition would give their squad a welcome boost.

Prediction: Top four

DUNBAR UNITED

Manager: Geoff Jones

Key signing: Experienced midfielder Michael Hunter has joined the Seasiders from Dalkeith Thistle. He has previous top flight experience with Musselburgh Athletic and will certainly add something to a youthful squad.

Notable departure: Influential attacking midfielder Chris King has called time on his playing career, but still remains at the club having joined the management team, becoming assistant manager to Jones.

Area to strengthen: Darren Handling could be out for the bulk of the season through injury, so Jones will be looking to add to his attacking options.

Prediction: Top ten

LINLITHGOW ROSE

Manager: Mark Bradley

Key signing: Ross Allum has signed up from East Stirlingshire and should he hit it off with club record goalscorer Tommy Coyne, Rose will boast the most potent attacking force in the division.

Notable departure: Veteran midfielder Robert Sloan has moved on. The former Hearts youngster has moved to Armadale Thistle to link up with former Rose team-mate Colin Leiper.

Area to strengthen: Rose haven’t had their problems to seek defensively in recent years, so they could do with bolstering their options at the back.

Prediction: Top six

MUSSELBURGH ATHLETIC

Manager: Kevin McDonald

Key signing: Midfielder Declan O’Kane has returned to the club from Berwick Rangers. O’Kane was a fans’ favourite in his first spell at the club and his acquisition is a real boost to boss McDonald ahead of the new campaign.

Notable departure: Goalkeeper Ali Adams has moved on to Tranent. His distribution was key to how Burgh liked to play, so it will be interesting to see how his replacement Jack Stewart, promoted from the club’s under 20s, gets on.

Area to strengthen: Burgh look a little lightweight in defence, so expect any further signings to be defenders.

Prediction: Top ten

NEWTONGRANGE STAR

Co-Managers: Darren Smith and Kenny Rafferty

Key signing: Veteran midfielder Adam Nelson ended his four-year spell at near neighbours Bonnyrigg Rose to sign on at New Victoria Park. Nelson is one of the best passers in the league and has built his reputation on his set-piece taking ability. He should be a real asset for Star this season.

Notable departure: Striker George Hunter has swapped places with Nelson, joining Rose. The former St Johnstone youngster netted 37 goals last season so has big boots to fill, but the signing of Kayne Paterson - who notched over 30 himself for Tranent last season - should soften the blow.

Area to strengthen: Star don’t have a lot of strength in numbers, so should be looking to make signings in a number of positions.

Prediction: Top ten

PENICUIK ATHLETIC

Co-Managers: Kevin Milne and Tony Begg

Key signing: Penicuik have made some excellent signings over the close season, so to pick one out is a hard task. Liam O’Donnell and Kevin Swain have both signed on from Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale, while Andy Forbes has returned to the club from Berwick Rangers. However, the acquisition of Paul Tansey - a proven goalscorer at this level - could be key to determining how high Penicuik can finish this season.

Notable departure: Striker Wayne McIntosh has moved on, opting to join his friends at leading Edinburgh amateur outfit Sandys after netting 38 goals last season. His presence will not only be felt on the pitch but in the dressing room, where he was a massive personality.

Area to strengthen: Penicuik look well covered in most areas, but could do with a midfield general to provide them with some added grit.

Prediction: Top four

TRANENT

Manager: Calvin Shand

Key signing: Stephen MacDonald has linked up with Shand once more after signing from Spartans, having previously worked under him at Musselburgh. He provides the Belters with something different upfront.

Notable departure: Top goalscorer Kayne Paterson has moved on to Newtongrange and his goals will be difficult to replace.

Area to strengthen: Tranent have covered all their bases well with their summer recruitment, so manager Shand will be content heading into Saturday with the squad he has assembled for the new campaign.

Prediction: Top four

WHITEHILL WELFARE

Manager: Craig Meikle

Key signing: It’s like a Penicuik Athletic reunion at Ferguson Park, with former Cuikie manager Meikle having brought enough of his former players from his time in charge with their local rivals to fill a mini-bus. The signing of former Penicuik goalkeeper Youssef Bejaoui sticks out, though.

Notable departure: Jack Wright has departed the club for Berwick Rangers as he opted to stay in the Lowland League.

Area to strengthen: Meikle has definitely improved the squad he inherited with a number of new signings. He completed his business early, so it would be a surprise to see any further arrivals.

Prediction: Top six

Below the Premier Division this season are two first divisions of 12 teams, named Conference A and B. The bottom three from the Premier Division will be automatically relegated, with the winners of each Conference being promoted and the two runners-up involved in a play-off for the third promotion spot.

Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale will be serious contenders for Conference A, which also contains Craigroyston, Haddington Athletic, Heriot Watt, Leith Athletic and Ormiston.

Tynecastle will fancy their chances for Conference B after the signing of Jordan Hopkinson from Civil Service Strollers. Arniston Rangers, Dalkeith Thistle, Easthouses Lily, Edinburgh United and Preston Athletic are also in the division.