Lowland League: City skipper up for title defence

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EDINBURGH CITY captain Dougie Gair has admitted last season’s Lowland League title-winning campaign could have been his last with the Meadowbank club.

The long-serving midfielder skippered City as they ran away with the division before suffering an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat to Brora Rangers in the SPFL pyramid play-off 

After such a successful league season, Gair admitted he considered seeking a new challenge elsewhere, but was persuaded to remain in black and white by manager Gary Jardine for another title tilt, starting with Gretna tomorrow at Meadowbank.

“Enjoyment’s the big thing,” said Gair. “There were a couple of doubts in my mind at the end of last season. Obviously. we had such a good season and I thought ‘you know, is this the season I should maybe go elsewhere or have a look at other things and finish on a high?’. But I sat down with Gary and had a decent chat and I’ve got one more season in me at least, so we’ll see what happens.”

Now that he is staying, Gair will hope his team-mates can hit match the incredibly high standards they set last season when they went unbeaten in the league until the third week in March, only succumbing to defeat once the title was won.

However, Gair believes things could me much tighter this time around.

“Last season was fantastic and we did exceptionally well – probably better than most people thought we would. We know this year’s going to be tough and everyone’s going to be out to get us but we’ve set ourselves the standards so it’s up to us to maintain them and kick on. Last season, we won it by 19 points and I don’t think that’ll be achieved again by any team for a long time. Teams will be out to get us even more so than last year.

“I think the Glasgow-based teams are going to put up a challenge this year. East Kilbride seem to have made a lot of signings, so they’re going to come into it. They’ve lost two of their better players but they seem to be recruiting well. I think BSC [Glasgow] will have a much better season this year as well and obviously you’ve got the unknown in Cumbernauld Colts so I’d expect there to be a challenge from them.

“There seems to be quite a bit of money going about through there. You’ve then got the usuals from through here – Spartans who’ll always be up challenging – but we’ll see what happens in the first few weeks.”

The champions have managed to keep the core of last season’s squad together while adding new faces in key areas. Striker Dean Carse arrived from Berwick while midfielders Sean Muhsin and Nicolas Narayaninsamy joined from Spartans and Edusport Academy respectively.

Gair is convinced the understanding a settled squad brings could be telling.

“You saw how important it was last year. Over the last few years, we’ve been moulding the same sort of team and last year was when it all sort of came together. We added a bit of quality where needed and this season we’ve kept the same squad and only lost a couple of fringe players and again Gary’s added quality so that should stand us in good stead again.”

While Jardine’s squad has only been tinkered with, the other Lothians clubs have all seen a high turnover of players during the summer.

Spartans, who play Stirling University on Sunday, have seen several of last season’s squad leave due to relocation, but Dougie Samuel seems to have recruited well. He raided old club Edinburgh University for midfielder Dan Ward and has added former Leith Athletic striker Keith Murray up top, along with midfielders David Greenhill, from East Stirlingshire, and Scott Maxwell of Berwick Rangers.

Whitehill Welfare and Preston Athletic play Threave Rovers and Gala Fairydean Rovers respectively and have undertaken heavy recruitment drives.

Whitehill boss Grant Carnie has brought former captain Mikey Bruce back from Spartans as well as adding Dale O’Hara from Preston. A raft of players have joined from former club Lothian Thistle, John Williams in defence being the stand-out capture.

Similarly, Colin Jack has utilised his contacts to overhaul his Preston squad. Ex-Broxburn goalkeeper Chis Flockhart will captain the Panners while Jamie Beaton and James Martin are among a number of ex-pro youth players to sign on.

Dorian Ogunro will again only know the true strength of his Edinburgh University squad – who open at Selkirk tomorrow – towards the end of September.