Highland League kick-off: Opening fixtures at Banks o' Dee, Brechin City, Buckie Thistle, Clachnacuddin, Fraserburgh, Keith, Lossiemouth, Strathspey Thistle and Turriff United
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Keith kick off their Highland League campaign today with a tough opener against Brora Rangers.
Manager Craig Ewen will welcome the Sutherland side - who finished third in the Highland League last term - to Kynoch Park, looking to cause an upset on day one of the season.
Ewen is not setting his sights too high and will be content to see his team make improvements on last term’s 13th place finish.
“We will be looking to kick on a few places if we can, but it won’t be easy,” Ewen said. “The league will be harder with Banks o’ Dee coming in.”
Ewen is pleased to welcome back last season’s top goalscorer Przemyslaw Nawrocki for at least the first half of the season. Nawrocki looked set to return to his home country of Poland but his plans have been put on hold.
Keith may be able to share the goals around a bit more, with Nawrocki backed up by Formartine United loan striker Joey Wilson (20) and experienced Highland League goal-getter Nick Gray, who came in during the summer.
Wilson showed his potential by scoring twice in a 5-1 success at Colony Park in Inverurie.
“He is a young striker who has been doing fine. He is bedding in well," said Ewen.
Buckie Thistle manager Graeme Stewart is wary of Wick Academy, who make the journey to Victoria Park today.
The Caithness side ended Buckie’s record-breaking 23-game winning run with a 1-1 draw at Victoria Park in April.
“Over the 20 years or so I’ve been involved in the Highland League, Wick have always been able to upset the odds,” Stewart said.
“They certainly did that in the second last game of last season, they probably should have beaten us and deserved at the very least the draw that they got. I’ve a lot of respect for them.”
Max Barry is out for Buckie with a hamstring injury.
Forres Mechanics head for Grantown to begin their campaign against Strathspey Thistle, boss by Cans legend Charlie Brown.
This week they signed Lucas Davidson from Buckie Thistle on a two-year deal and manager Steven MacDonald has since added Ross County loan youngsters Connall Ewan and Ryan MacLeman.
Jags boss Brown led his team to a 3-1 victory over his old club in Mechanics' last visit to Seafield Park in April.
“We are just looking to make a winning start and if we can do that, it would effectively put us three points ahead of last season because we got nothing down there last season,” said Forres assistant boss Steve MacLean.
“We’ll have to be at the top of our game to beat them.”
Rothes midfielder Alan Pollock says his side are up for the battle ahead of their opener away to Brechin City.
The Speysiders will travel to Glebe Park without a number of key players including Bruce Milne, Fraser Robertson and Greg Morrison.
They will also be without long time absentees Gary Kerr and Wayne MacKintosh who are both out with cartilage injuries.
Despite the absences, Pollock insists Rothes are up for the fight against a City side that have recruited extensively this summer.
“It’s not an ideal start to the season because we have a number of boys out,” he said.
“We know how tough Brechin are but we’re up for the battle. We always are.”
Lossiemouth start at home to Formartine United, who needed a last minute goal to rescue a point in their last Grant Park visit.
The Coasters have signed experienced pair Martin Charlesworth and Scott Miller in time for the match.
Miller was a fans favourite at Lossie for his scoring exploits from the middle of the park, before moving to Turriff United, Elgin City and then Forres.
Like Coasters’ summer signing Scott Thomson, Miller works offshore and wouldn’t be available for every game.
“We’re hoping he can pair up again with Ryan Farquhar and get in amongst the goals for us,” said Russell.
Charlesworth signed for Lossie two years ago for his second spell at the club before taking some time away from football for family and business reasons.
He did pre-season with the club and comes into the reckoning for tthis weekend.
“We gave them a good game last season,” said Lossie boss Joe Russell. “It’s a bit of unknown how they will shape up this season with Paul (former manager Lawson) moving on.
Russell is thrilled to get Buckie Thistle striker Adam MacLeod in on loan. The former Elgin City man scored a spectacular goal from an impossible angle in a 4-0 win over Cruden Bay last week, and will considerably strengthen the Coasters front line.
Russell could pitch in another new signing, RAF serviceman Ryan O’Halloran at left back tomorrow. Both Ally Bellingham and Jared Kennedy, who play in that position, are out injured.
Deveronvale have signed Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Shingler on loan ahead of their first game away to champions Fraserburgh.
League new boys Banks o' Dee will host a historic match at Spain park against Nairn County as they begin life in the Highland League.
And Huntly have brought goalkeeper Fraser Hobday back to Christe Park for a second spell, with the keeper coming into contention for a place between the sticks at Turriff United today.
Clachnacuddin host Inverurie Locos in the day's other opening fixture.