Spartans have SPFL promotion in their sights despite rough opening to Lowland League season
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The Ainslie Park club finished in fifth place last term as Bonnyrigg Rose won the division and gained promotion thanks to a play-off final win over Cowdenbeath.
Though the division has seen the exodus of two teams who thoroughly dominated over recent seasons, Bonnyrigg and prior champions Kelty Hearts, it isn’t expected to get much easier for those wishing to escape. Broomhill have been rebranded as Open Goal Broomhill and are already making waves with the signing of ex-Scottish international Kirk Broadfoot, while Tranent are expected to challenge at the top end after their promotion from a hugely competitive East of Scotland League.
There’s also the continued existence of Celtic and Rangers B teams, who’ll this year be joined by Hearts. Though none of the three clubs can win promotion, they’re expected to finish high up in the table and present an extra hurdle for any manager wanting to develop a winning culture.
It’s an especially tough challenge for Samuel and his players as they begin the campaign with matches against Hearts, Celtic and Rangers in their first four league games after travelling to Broomhill this Saturday for the opening weekend.
However, he remains confident the team he has constructed will have enough to navigate the rough beginning and have a fruitful campaign.
“The goal is to win promotion to League Two. It's going to be difficult, very difficult,” Samuel told the Evening News.
“The league is getting stronger all the time, but I think we're putting together a good squad. Certainly the players I'm signing, they're coming here because they want to win the league. They want to win promotion so I don't think we should shy away from that. But I know there will be another six, seven, eight teams who will be thinking exactly the same and saying the same thing.
“You just have to look at the investment which is being made at East Kilbride, Berwick Rangers, Open Goal Broomhill, Tranent... where do I stop? So everyone is investing and improving the quality and depth of their squads.”
Samuel placed particular emphasis on strengthening the attack ahead of the 2022/23 campaign. Though Spartans finished only five points off East Kilbride in fourth last term they scored 23 fewer goals. He knows it’s one area where they need to improve to give themselves the best possible chance of finishing top of the pile.
“We’ve tried to put more goals in the squad, so the reason behind the signing of Sean Brown and Jamie Penker is quite clear,” he said. “We had a huge dependency last season on a handful of players, particularly Blair Henderson and Jamie Dishington.
“You run the risk that, if one of them get injured, then you’re struggling. We needed to mitigate against that while also creating more competition for places. And in signing Rhys Armstrong we’ve got one of the best young midfielders in the league who is capable of scoring goals and playmaking as well.”