Despite leading Bo’ness United to the Super League title last season, manager Allan McGonigal believes Newtongrange Star are the favourites to lift the league crown this term.
The BUs began their title defence with a 1-1 draw away to near neighbours Camelon on Wednesday night, with Bo’ness summer signing Colin Leiper playing against his former club alongside new additions Scott Pittman and Willie McLaren.
McGonigal has bolstered his squad with those three players and Kelty Hearts’ Ross Philip over the summer, but, ahead of the BUs’ opening home match against Sauchie tomorrow, he is tipping Newtongrange to take the championship.
“Newtongrange are my favourites to pip everybody this year,” said McGonigal.
“They almost did it last year, but they crashed out at the wrong time for them. I think they are stronger this year – bringing in Kris Renton and Craig Thomson, I think they’ve got a real chance.
“Alan Miller should have won manager of the season after what he achieved at Newtongrange last year, considering they had just come up. He’s a shrewd, experienced manager and he knows how to set his team out. If anyone finishes above Newtongrange this year then they’ll not be far away from winning the title.”
McGonigal feels his own side have been improved with the four additions during the close season, but he is targeting a striker to complete the jigsaw after Steven Hislop left for Bonnyrigg Rose at the end of last season.
He admits he’s not had much luck in the transfer market over the summer, with several of his signing targets opting to go elsewhere. However, he still feels the squad at his disposal are capable of repeating last year’s success.
“We probably need a striker, but we only need a striker if the boys we have brought in don’t do the business. We’ve got goals all over the park – Darren Gribben scored 26 goals last season and he doesn’t play as a striker. How many strikers bettered that?”
“In my opinion we have a better squad of players than we had last year – they are much stronger. I’ve got real competition in my football club. If the right player come up we’ll sign them, but it’s not something we’ll be going out our way to do.
“We’ve not spent any money bringing in any players; I don’t think we have spent a bean in the last few years. If the right player comes available for Bo’ness and we had to pay a few quid for him, there wouldn’t be an issue.”
Midfield duo Robert Sloan and Nicky Walker missed out Wednesday’s match through injury and they are still sidelined for the visit of Sauchie tomorrow. However, Ross Philip could make his debut after missing the trip to Camelon.
McGonigal would have loved to begin the season with a win, but felt it was a point gained after the BUs went down to ten men when a goal down and still managed to salvage an equaliser at Carmuirs Park.
Pointing to the fact Bo’ness lost there last season, the United boss wasn’t too disheartened by opening the season with a draw.
He said: “I think it was a point gained rather than two points lost. Last year we got beat 1-0 at Camelon, so we are a point better off against a team that we didn’t beat last year. It wasn’t the start we were looking for, but we’ll accept it, you don’t win league titles in August.
“We came away with a point and when you’re a goal down and a man down, you’ll always take a draw.”
Elsewhere in the Super League tomorrow, Linlithgow Rose will be hoping to build on their opening-day win over Sauchie when they host Penicuik Athletic at Prestonfield. Musselburgh, buoyed by a 3-2 win over Bonnyrigg, take on Hill of Beath at Olivebank, while Bonnyrigg make the trip to Fife to take on Kelty Hearts.