The 2017/18 Highland League season kicks off this afternoon and champions Buckie Thistle will have a real fight on their hands to try and retain their title. A lot could depend on whether the Jags can hold onto HFL player of the year Kevin Fraser.
Cove Rangers and Brora Rangers fought all the way to the final day last season and are sure to be challenging again this term. Brora have added some serious firepower to an already potent attack with the signing of Craig Gunn from Elgin City, while Cove have added Ryan Strachan and Jamie Masson to their midfield to compensate for the huge loss of Blair Yule to Arbroath.
Formartine, Fraserburgh and Forres have all made good additions to their squads and will hope to improve on their top six finishes last term, while it will be fascinating to see how the 12 summer signings settle in at Rothes and how far they can climb the table.
Team news for tomorrow’s games:
Buckie Thistle v Clach
The Highland League Championship flag will be unfurled at Victoria Park before Buckie face Clach and the Jags will be without Craig Cowie and Sean Wood with long term injuries. Chris Angus and Drew Copeland are suspended and Sean Carroll and Ross Elder are both on loan to Deveronvale. Ross Salmon and Declan Milne are also on loan to Dyce Juniors and East End respectively.
Clach have added experience to their defence with the captures of Martin MacDonald and Sean Webb. They’re without Martin Callum, John Campbell, David McGurk, Liam Shewan and Fraser Robertson through injury and the unavailable Ryan Mackintosh. Daniel Maclennan is suspended and Struan Scott-Woodhouse is away to live in Dubai.
Cove Rangers v Huntly
Cove boss John Sheran has a full squad to choose from apart from Mitch Megginson, who is suspended. Summer signings Ryan Strachan and Jamie Masson could make their full debuts for the 'home' side.
Huntly also have a fully fit squad for the short trip to Harlaw Park and could hand first starts to new boys Martin Charlesworth and Mike Ewen up front.
Deveronvale v Turriff Utd
Deveronvale kick off their campaign with a home derby against Turriff and will be minus the suspended Steven Davidson and Liam Forbes. William Pauline, Michael Dunn, Ross Elder and Sean Carroll could all make their Vale debuts.
Turriff have several players missing, including Aaron Sherman, Chris Herd, Jordi Walker, Leszek Nowosielski, Russell McBride and Cammy Booth. Liam Strachan is also doubtful, while Scott Miller, Kevin Flett and Calum Reid could all make their debuts for the club.
Forres Mechanics v Nairn County
Forres and Nairn start their season with a derby at Mosset Park and the home side will be without Jordan Wardrope and Ross MacPherson with knee injuries, Graeme Grant is on holiday and there are doubts over Robbie Duncanson, Jordan Milne and Craig McGovern.
Nairn have Gary Kerr and Greig Main injured, Kenny McKenzie suspended and Dylan McLean unavailable. New signings Adam Porritt, Ewan Urquhart, Max Ewan and Ryan MacDonald could feature.
Formartine Utd v Inverurie Locos
Formartine will hope to put up a stronger title challenge this term and they face a tough opener against local rivals Locos at North Lodge Park. Wayne Mackintosh, Sam Muirhead and Archie Macphee could all make their first starts for United.
Locos are likely to include the returning Neil Gauld against his former club, but Neil McLean and Andy Hunter are both suspended.
Fraserburgh v Wick Academy
Fraserburgh have strengthened with the excellent signings of Lewis Davidson and Paul Young from Turriff and the return of custodian Paul Leask from Keith. They have a full squad for the league opener against Wick at Bellslea.
James Pickles misses out through suspension for a Wick side that will be along similar lines as last season, minus the retired Gary Weir. Jack Halliday and Korbyn Cameron could feature after joining the club this week.
Keith v Fort William
It was all change at Kynoch Park this summer with the departure of Allan Hale and the appointment of Ewan Robb. The Maroons kick off the new campaign at home to Fort William and both sides will hope for a winning start under their new bosses.
Both clubs have lost some important players in the close season, with the likes of Kris Duncan, Mike Ewen, Craig Cormack and Ross Anderson departing Kynoch Park and Scott Davidson, Adam Porritt and Craig Mainland leaving Fort.
Lossiemouth v Brora Rangers
Lossiemouth start their season with a tough task at home to Brora and they’ve also lost some big players this summer, including Scott Miller, Darren McConnachie and Martin Charlesworth. Nathan Smith is their only absentee for this one.
Brora have a full squad available for the trip to Grant Park, minus the suspended Gavin Morrison.
Rothes v Strathspey Thistle
The Rothes Revolution kicks off at home to Strathspey and they could field a whole team of new signings at Mackessack Park. The likes of Steven Fraser, Daniel Moore, Paul MacLeod, James Fraser, and Dale Gillespie are all likely to make their home debuts.
New Thistle manager Ally Munro has brought former striker Adam Macleod back to the club and he could be joined in attack by new signing Gavin Hay from juniors Spey Valley. Munro is also hoping to add another Spey Valley target, captain Nick Mochan, to his squad.