Updated: Oct 11, 2020
It's been 216 days since the last competitive game in the East of Scotland Football League. The fixture list survived a last minute scare from the Scottish Government's announcement, and despite the absence of fans, the 2020-21 season will finally kick-off this Saturday.
Here Kevin takes a look at the first round of fixtures and offers a prediction on each result.
Musselburgh Athletic v Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale (Friday evening)
It wasn’t too long ago that LTHV were the dominant force in the East of Scotland League, but since the mass influx of clubs from the Junior ranks, the multiple winners have slipped from their perch somewhat. But after winning Conference A last season, Vale are now back at the top table and kick-off the new season with the Friday night trip to Musselburgh.
Musselburgh will be looking to improve on least season’s mid-table finish, and Kevin McDonald’s side go into the campaign in good shape. Athletic gave a good account of themselves against Lowland League opposition in pre-season with narrow defeats to Kelty Hearts and East Stirlingshire and a 2-2 draw at home to Bonnyrigg Rose.
Prediction: Expect a narrow home win
Blackburn Utd v Jeanfield Swifts
Blackburn spent most of last season in the lower half of the Premier League table with just five wins and three draws to their credit. Pre-season has gone well enough for Mark Campbell’s men with some decent results albeit against weaker opponents. Danny Campbell has weighed in with 4 goals in pre-season, and united will need him to maintain that kind of form if they are to make any impact on the league this time around.
Jeanfield had a decent season last year but had a worrying tendency to blow a little hot and cold. Logan McConachie has managed to retain most of last season’s squad, including playmaker Chris Dodd who returned to Perth after a spell at Kelty Hearts. Swifts warmed up for the season with a fine 3-1 friendly win over Stirling University’s Lowland League side last weekend, although maybe took their foot off the gas a little after being 3 up at half-time.
Prediction: Swifts should have too much quality for United - away win.
Dunbar Utd v Sauchie Juniors
There wasn’t a lot to separate these two last season, with both sides having an almost identical record, although both will be looking to improve on bottom half finishes. United’s squad is bolstered by the loan signing of Livingston defender Jack Duncan for a three-month spell. United had a decent pre-season, the highlight being a narrow 2-1 defeat to Hearts.
Sauchie have been a key part of the Let Fans In campaign, managing to get the support of their local MP. On the playing side Fraser Duncan has strengthened his squad during lockdown, welcoming Brian Morgan back from Bo’ness and adding former Stirling Albion midfielder Lewis Turnbull.
Prediction: Too close to call – score draw.
Linlithgow Rose v Crossgates Primrose
Last season was a disappointment by Linlithgow’s standards, a tenth place finish well below what the Rose fans have come to expect. Brown Ferguson has been busy over the lay-off with the signing of Lewis Crawford from Dumbarton and American goalkeeper Brian Schwake on a season-long loan from Livingston, as well as securing the return of Sean Slaven and Daryl Meikle.
It’s been a difficult pre-season for Crossgates, which included a narrow 1-0 loss at home to EOSFL newcomers Thornton Hibs and a heavy 5-0 defeat away at reigning champions Bo’ness, although a decent win against Rosyth gave the Humbug faithful a glimmer of hope. There have been a few signings for Alan Campbell, the most notable being the capture of former Kelty duo Garry Leighton and Ciarren Chalmers.
Prediction: The tricky trip to Prestonfield might be too much for Primrose. Home win.
Newtongrange Star v Camelon Juniors
Despite what you might hear on any podcast, last season was a miserable one for Nitten, with just 4 league wins and 3 draws all season long. It’s been a busy lockdown for joint management team of Chris King and Wes Mitchell with changes to both the playing staff and the coaching team. Star rounded off their pre-season programme with a convincing 7-1 win over neighbours Dalkieth Thistle.
Camelon finished in 5th spot last season, level on points with Tranent. Gordon Herd has managed to keep the core of that squad together and has strengthened with the additions of defender Kier MacAulay from Kelty, midfielder Jack Sharples from LTHV and striker Stephen Docherty from East Kilbride.
Prediction: Camelon will have too much for Star – away win.
Penicuick Athletic v Broxburn Athletic
Penicuik gaffer Tony Begg has done well to keep together the majority of the squad that finished 7th in the Premier League last season. On the playing side, defender Paul Thomson has joined from Vale of Leithen, while former East Kilbride coach Dean Shanks joins the backroom staff. It was a decent pre-season for Cuikie, with narrow defeats to higher league sides Edinburgh City, Bonnyrigg and Spartans and a couple of good wins over Haddington and Gala.
Last season’s runners up Broxburn will be keen to get the season underway after a decent 2-2 draw at home to Gala Fairydean last weekend. Gaffer Jack Beesely has strengthened his side with the addition of Tom Cowley from Stirling Uni bringing Lowland League experience to Albyn Park as the Brox look to go one better this time around.
Prediction: Broxburn to get their title challenge off to a flier – away win.
Tranent Juniors v Hill of Beath Hawthorn
Arguably the game of the opening weekend will be at Forester Park as last season’s third & fourth place finishers go head-to-head. It’s been a stormy build up for Tranent, with new gaffer Calum Elliot taking over the hotseat just two weeks ago following the surprise departure of Johnny Harvey. Pre-season had seemed to be going well, with a 5-1 win over Preston Athletic and a good 2-1 at home to Bo’ness. The new management team will be hoping to keep that form going as the season proper gets underway.
Lockdown will have seemed even longer for everybody at Hill of Beath, the premature end to the season hurting the Haws more than most as they finished just a point behind Broxburn with a game in hand. John Mitchell has been able to keep the majority of that side together. It’s been a strong pre-season for Haws, with plenty of goals in the wins against Bo’ness (3-0), Burntisland (5-2) and Glenrothes (5-1). The smart money expects the Fifers to put up a strong title challenge.
Prediction: Hill of Beath are hungry – away win.
Tynecastle v Inverkeithing Hillfield Swifts
In a quirk of the fixture computer, this matchup is between two newly promoted sides. Tynecastle earned their Premier League spot after taking the Conference B title with a comfortable 20 point cushion over Swifts. Tynecastle have been affected by the managerial merry-go-round, newly appointed gaffer Stephen McLeish joining after Calum Elliot’s move to Tranent.
Swifts surprised many of the more established sides, gaining promotion in only their second season as adult side. The Fifers have learned quickly though, gaffer Grant Brough building a strong side, including midfielder Finn Graham who comes with a wealth of experience from spells at Berwick Rangers, Brechin City and Kelty Hearts.
Prediction: Should be a tight affair, don’t be surprised if Swifts nick it by the odd goal.
Whitehill Welfare v Dundonald Bluebell
Whitehill have had their fair share of turbulence in recent years, and this close season has been no different. Neil Janczyk has taken over the manager’s office after Craig Meikle stepped down and with no fewer than 10 new faces joining the playing staff, its hard to know what to expect from Welfare. Janczyk will be hoping for a better showing than finishing second bottom last season.
Dundonald were perhaps the surprise package of last season’s Premier League, as gaffer Kevin Fotheringham turned Bluebell into a potent attacking force, the Moorside men finishing as the league’s top scorers. The striking partnership of Matty Gay and Stuart Cargill will be crucial for Bluebell again this season if they are to repeat the feat and secure another top six finish.
Prediction: Dundonald should have too much fire power for the new look Welfare. Away win.
1st: Hill of Beath Hawthorn
2nd: Broxburn Athletic