Scottish League One Preview: Will Falkirk live up to favourites tag? 
Raith Rovers' Joao Victoria battles Dundee's Shaun Byrne in the Betfred Cup (Image from Getty Images/David Young)

With the Ladbrokes League One season kicking off on Saturday, Calum Brown, Anthony Evans and Graham Davidson preview the sides taking part in Scotland's third tier.

Airdrieonians

Airdrieonians look very strong this season, having strengthened a lot in the summer. Ian Murray is in charge for his first full season at the club and has been very active in the transfer window, adding a lot of quality all over the pitch.

Callum Fordyce, Ally Roy and Josh Kerr are just three exciting additions to the Diamonds’ squad as they look to push for a Play-Off spot after missing out by three points last season. With midfield enforcer Nat Wedderburn and full-back Adam Eckersley also coming into the side, Murray has a lot of experience on offer which could prove very useful this term.

The Betfred Cup gave Airdrie the chance to test themselves against some tough opposition in the form of Hamilton and Partick Thistle, and they went toe-to-toe with their local rivals for the majority of the game, despite narrowly losing on both occasions.

The Diamonds finished with four points, after a 3-2 victory over Clyde, and a penalty shoot-out triumph over Queen’s Park. Murray and his team can take positives going into the League One season, and could even be dark horses to mount a title challenge.

Clyde

The Bully Wee will be looking to firmly establish themselves in the top half of the League One table after a highly impressive promotion campaign last term.

Danny Lennon’s men shook off what could have been a morale-sapping points deduction for fielding an ineligible player, to secure a convincing Play-Off victory over Annan Athletic, and will be looking to carry that momentum forward.

Defender Alex Petkov comes in on loan from Hearts, while Chris Johnston and Tony Wallace both arrive from Annan. Going the other way, defender Tom Lang, who moves to full-time football with Dunfermline, will be missed.

Early season form has been uninspiring, to say the least, with the Broadwood side finishing bottom of their Betfred Cup group. However,  Lennon will be confident that a repeat of last season’s post-Christmas form, which saw the Bully Wee surge up the table with a number of impressive performances including a fully deserved away win at eventual champions Peterhead, will see them looking towards the Play-Offs at the business end of the table come next Easter.

Dumbarton

Dumbarton found themselves in a relegation battle last year and subsequently replaced boss Stevie Aitken with the experienced Jim Duffy, who managed to steer the club to safety. This season, the Sons will be looking to put last season behind them and push on. The league will be so tight that every side should realistically be aiming to get into those Play-Off positions.

Duffy has lost a few key players this summer, so has had to put together a new-look side. Ross Forbes, Bobby Barr and Dom Thomas are all no longer on the books, so Dumbarton may struggle without these key players, especially Thomas who was instrumental in their survival.

The Sons have added Joe McKee to their squad, who should be a great signing at League One level. Morgyn Neill has also agreed to terms, which could prove to be a good deal given his experience in the division – earning a League One winners medal with Livingston a few years ago.

Dumbarton could find it tough again this season if their Betfred Cup performances are to mean anything. They were victorious over League Two side Annan in their opening game but were later thrashed 6-1 and 4-1 by Morton and Queen of the South respectively. Duffy’s side were also beaten by Motherwell but will be hoping to put the competition behind them and start the season as well as they ended it last year.

East Fife

East Fife looked on course to claim the fourth and final Play-Off spot for a lot of last season, but couldn’t quite get over the line, eventually finishing seventh. Darren Young’s side will be looking to improve on last season’s inconsistency and grab one of the all-important Play-Off spots.

Young has been busy in the summer window, adding Danny Denholm and Ryan Wallace from last season’s League One champions Arbroath, whilst Stewart Murdoch brings vital experience, signing permanently from Dundee United after a loan spell last season.

The Fifers had a brilliant Betfred Cup campaign, progressing into the last 16 and being rewarded with a home draw against Rangers. They started poorly though, with a defeat to Fife rivals Cowdenbeath, but redeemed themselves with a victory over Stenhousemuir in the next match.

Then came a shock win at Tannadice as they beat Dundee United 2-0, and that was followed by a fantastic draw against Hearts at Bayview. East Fife were victorious on penalties, claiming the bonus point against the Edinburgh side. Overall, they can take huge confidence from the competition, and, if they find form, there’s a big chance of a Play-Off spot.

Falkirk

Falkirk were last season’s surprise package, for all the wrong reasons. After Paul Hartley was sacked very early on in the season, Ray McKinnon took charge but saw his Bairns side finish bottom of the Championship, and relegated to League One after so many years of the club pushing for a return to the top-flight.

For obvious reasons, Falkirk are this season’s favourites for the League One title. They are expected to run away with the trophy, after a fantastic window in which they’ve effectively signed a side that wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship. Connor Sammon, Charlie Telfer, Declan McManus and Gregor Buchanan to name a few, have all signed on for the Bairns’ League One campaign, as the club look to put last year’s embarrassment behind them.

McKinnon’s new-look side had a decent Betfred Cup run, starting with a point at home to Premiership side Livingston, however, Gary Holt’s men claimed the bonus point. Falkirk looked convincing in victories against Stranraer and Berwick Rangers and were only narrowly defeated by Championship outfit Ayr United. There are a lot of positives to take from the competition, as the Bairns go into the new season expected to comfortably win the title.

Forfar Athletic

With a stunning Betfred Cup group campaign to add to their highly impressive performances last term, the Loons must surely be among the favourites for promotion.

After a steady start last year, the Station Park men rose up the table to close the gap on run away leaders Arbroath, eventually finishing in second position. Despite losing to Raith Rovers in the Play-Off Semi-Final, Jim Weir’s men shook off their disappointment to top their Betfred Cup group early this season, knocking out St Johnstone in the process.

A host of new signings, including former Hearts midfielder Callum Tapping and the experienced Jordan Kirkpatrick, who arrives from Alloa Athletic, will add to the promotion push. In terms of significant departures, Brad Spencer’s brief spell with the club is over, with the 23-year-old signing for promotion rivals Raith.

While the Loons will be competing against bigger and better-funded sides such as Falkirk and Raith, morale and confidence are surely sky-high for the Angus side. Expect them to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

Montrose

The Gable Endies will no doubt be looking to take inspiration from Angus rivals Arbroath, as they look towards promotion to the Championship.

Stewart Petrie’s men enjoyed a solid first season above the bottom tier in over 20 years in 2018-19 and will be hoping to at least equal last season’s fourth-place finish.

The Links Park side have had a relatively stable summer transfer wise, with only two players leaving. Australian keeper Aaron Banks arrives from Patrick Thistle, while former Dundee United man Cammy Ballantyne comes in from Dumbarton. Defender Kerr Waddell has also signed from Dundee.

With a promising Betfred Cup campaign, featuring a win against St Johnstone, under their belt, the Angus men will be hoping for at least a second consecutive top-four finish, although automatic promotion may be beyond them.

Peterhead

Peterhead may have left it very late to clinch the League Two title last season, but Jim McInally and his team will be very hopeful of further success in the upcoming campaign.

The Blue Toon are back in League One after two seasons in Scotland's fourth tier and should be looking at delivering another promotion at the Balmoor Stadium. Manager McInally has a wealth of experience and quality throughout his squad, such as full-back Paddy Boyle, midfield maestro Simon Ferry, and strikers Rory McAllister and Derek Lyle who bagged 25 goals between them last season.

Peterhead will also command one of the biggest budgets in the division, and have used this to their advantage with the capture of midfielder Gary Fraser from Cowdenbeath, a man who is no stranger to playing at a higher level from his days in the Premiership with Hamilton and Partick Thistle.

McInally’s side managed six points in a tough Betfred Cup group, but only managed one victory in normal time - a 2-1 win against Cove Rangers. Peterhead did extremely well to hold both Dundee and Inverness to draws, claiming the bonus point via a penalty shoot-out against the latter. But, they’ll be disappointed with their final group game, throwing away the chance to progress after a 3-1 defeat to Raith Rovers. Overall, confidence can be gained from their performances in the competition though. 

Raith Rovers

Raith will be looking to bounce back from Play-Off heartbreak last season, after an aggregate defeat in the final to Championship side Queen of the South kept Rovers in League One yet again. John McGlynn’s men will be hopeful of a title challenge this term, after losing out in the Play-Offs in their last two campaigns.

The Kirkcaldy outfit have had a difficult summer, losing last season’s star man Kevin Nisbet to Dunfermline. The striker netted 30 goals in League One last year, so will be very hard to replace, along with departing strike partner Liam Buchanan who also scored regularly with 12 league goals. Ex-Hibs striker Lewis Allan has been added, along with Airdrieonians’ Joao Victoria, but Rovers may struggle in front of goal this year.

They have added to their squad though. Regan Hendry is a welcome addition after his loan spell last season was made permanent in the summer after his release from Celtic, and Mikey Miller has a League One winners medal from his time at Livingston in the 2016/17 campaign.

The less said about Raith’s Betfred Cup action the better. McGlynn’s side lost by three goals on three occasions, suffering defeats to Dundee, Inverness and League Two outfit Cove Rangers. Rovers did manage a 3-1 win over Peterhead, but the competition won’t have given fans much confidence.

Stranraer

Having finished just one place above the drop zone last term, the Blues will be looking to consolidate safety far earlier this year.

However, a turbulent summer transfer window, coupled with the loss of key midfielder Kyle Turner may see another season for Stranraer in the bottom half of the table.

A cavalcade or ins and outs have characterised the Dumfries and Galloway side’s summer, although the loan signing of Nigerian forward David Dangana from Aberdeen is certainly one to watch. Stephen Farrell's side will undoubtedly miss 21-year-old Turner, who has joined Dunfermline Athletic after initially attracting interest from West Bromwich Albion.

A solid enough Betfred Cup group stage, featuring narrow losses to Falkirk and Premiership side Livingston, as well as a thumping 6-0 win over Berwick Rangers, will undoubtedly give the Blues confidence that they can avoid relegation this year.  This may be the limit of their realistic ambitions for 2019/20 though.

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