The 18 Highland League teams and our reporter’s mid-term verdict on them

The Press and Journal’s Highland League reporter Dave Edwards gives his verdict on all 18 teams at the halfway stage of the 2017-18 season.

1) COVE RANGERS

John Sheran’s men have been hugely impressive. Cove recruited well over the season with the arrival of defensive midfielder Ryan Strachan and defender Scott Ross from Peterhead.

Despite playing all of their games away from home as they wait to move into their new ground at Calder Park, Cove have won all but two games this season and are the team to beat heading into the second half of the campaign.

Your mid-term verdict for the 18 Highland League teams

Could they go the whole season unbeaten? Only time will tell. One disappointment was their Aberdeenshire Cup final loss against Formartine United but it has been an excellent season so far for Sheran’s men.

  • VERDICT: 9 out of 10

2) INVERURIE LOCOS

Manager Neil Cooper has moulded the Garioch men into a very difficult team to beat.

He has bought wisely, firstly with the return of goalkeeper Andy Reid and striker Neil Gauld from Formartine United to Harlaw Park and, more recently, the arrival of three-time championship winner Chris Angus from Buckie Thistle.

They also bolstered their squad at the weekend by signing experienced former Turriff United full back Chris Herd.

  • VERDICT: 8 out 10

3) FRASERBURGH

Along with Rothes, the Broch are the only team to deny Cove Rangers a league win so far this season. Surprisingly, their form has dipped recently.

Perhaps Mark Cowie’s players already have one eye on next month’s glamorous Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Glasgow Rangers at Bellslea which will be broadcast live on television.

With quality finishers like Gary Harris, Graham Johnston and youngster Greg Buchan in the squad could Broch pull off one of the biggest Scottish Cup shocks of all time?

  • VERDICT: 8 out of 10

4) BRORA RANGERS

Another side capable of mounting a serious challenge to Cove Rangers.

Manager Ross Tokely has an abundance of riches in his squad, so much so that he recently sold former Highland League player of the year Andy Greig to Formartine.

The Cattachs’ defence is one of the most frugal in the league having conceded just 14 goals so far. If goal difference comes into play, their 16-0 home win against Fort William could prove crucial.

  • VERDICT: 8 out of 10

5) HUNTLY

Many people’s surprise team this term. Co-managers Andy Roddie and Tommy Wilson had taken the Christie Park club into the top six with wins over Brora and Formartine before their shock exit.

I’m sure with all his league experience new manager Charlie Charlesworth can build on that platform.

  • VERDICT: 7 out of 10

6) FORMARTINE UNITED

New United player-manager Paul Lawson replaced Kris Hunter in September and if recent form is anything to go by the Pitmedden club is definitely on the rise.

They defeated Cove to lift the Aberdeenshire Cup, a victory which will have given everyone at North Lodge Park plenty of belief. The long-awaited return from a two-year injury nightmare for centre half Craig McKeown has tightened up the United defence, while Ewen Macdonald has made the number one jersey his own since the start of the season.

In Archie Macphee they have one of the most dangerous strikers in the league.

  • VERDICT: 7 out of 10

7) FORRES MECHANICS

The Can-Cans are on a highly impressive seven-game winning run and have charged up the table.

Mechanics manager Charlie Rowley has made the most of his resources and Forres are a threat at set-pieces thanks to the pin-point deliveries of full back Simon Allan.

Opposing defences continue to concede goals as they struggle to counteract the aerial threat of Lee Fraser and Stuart Soane.

  • VERDICT: 7 out of 10

8) BUCKIE THISTLE

It was always going to be hard for Buckie to defend their Highland League title as everyone wants to beat the champions.

The Jags’ growing injury list really has been a mitigating factor with the loss of quality players such as Shaun Wood, Craig Cowie and Sam Urquhart, all with cruciate-ligament injuries which will not see them return to action for around a year.

Forward John McLeod and midfielder Kevin Fraser have also been sidelined for a couple of months so their struggles are no great surprise. Chris Angus has left to join Inverurie Locos but recent addition of defender Kieran Adams and midfielder Andy MacAskill should help to steady the ship.

VERDICT: 6 out of 10

9) ROTHES

Along with Huntly, the league’s surprise package. At the start of the season many doubted the wisdom of manager Steven MacDonald making 16 new signings but with the Speysiders occupying ninth place in the table he and his coaching staff, player-coach Daniel Moore, and former Forres favourite Nathan Sharp, have been vindicated.

Last term Rothes amassed 26 points, they have accumulated an impressive 31pt from just 20 games, a statistic to put a broad smile on the face of any Rothes fan.

  • VERDICT: 6 out of 10

10) DEVERONVALE

Vale manager Steve Dolan has made no secret of the fact that due to budget constraints he has had to put his faith in youth this term and the young Banffers have already repaid his faith in style.

Highlight of the season is, without doubt, a league and cup double over rivals, and reigning Highland League champions, Buckie Thistle, while the goal-scoring form of former Fraserburgh favourite, Dane Ballard, with 18 strikes to his name so far, has been equally impressive.

  • VERDICT: 6 out of 10

11) NAIRN COUNTY

County have been punching above their weight again as manager Ronnie Sharp continues to extract the best from his youthful squad. The emergence of teenage striker Jordan MacRae, who has scored 12 times this term, has been a help, and I’m sure the youngster’s recent decision to turn down the advances of both Cove and Formartine to remain at Station Park will also have a positive knock-on effect.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

12) CLACHNACUDDIN

It’s been a somewhat disappointing form so far for the Lilywhites, although off the field the club has continued to make great strides at Grant Street, most notably the completion of an impressive new boardroom.

Finance as always is an issue for Lilywhites manager Iain Polworth, but Clach have one of the best youth systems around. No doubt the squad will be boosted from those ranks again before the end of the season.

VERDICT: 5 out of 10

13) TURRIFF UNITED

Turriff United’s injury crisis has been well documented. Earlier this month, manager Ross Jack was without the services of 14 first team player so it’s no surprise the Haughs club are in an unaccustomed 13th spot. I believe that Jack can turn things around when more players return from injury but it won’t be easy.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

14) WICK ACADEMY

New Academy manager Tom McKenna is still finding his feet in the league and the Scorries are struggling to find consistency. Long-term injuries to key players such as defender Alan Farquhar and winger Davie Allan as well as the retirement of striker Gary Weir, have all had a detrimental effect.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

15) KEITH

Even the return of prodigal son Cammy Keith has failed to ignite the Kynoch Park flame to any great degree this season so far.

However the forward is within five goals of the club’s all-time goal-scoring record-holder, Derek Nicol, who has 200 strikes to his name and I expect the former back-to-back Highland League player of the year to pass that mark shortly.

Maroons’ manager Ewan Robb is another who doesn’t have the benefit of unlimited funds at his disposal but he is doing his best with limited resources.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

16) LOSSIEMOUTH

Another new player-manager Iain MacRae took Lossie to North Cup final just after his appointment, and although the Coasters lost out 2-0 to Brora Rangers at Grant Street in Inverness, the experience will have benefited both MacRae and his youthful squad a great deal.

Another impress stat is the goalscoring form of young midfielder Ryan Farquhar, who has already found the back of the net seven times so far this term.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

17) STRATHSPEY THISTLE

The Jags have been struggling to find any real form under the guidance of new manager Ally Munro, although their campaign been a bit of a stop-start season due to the wintry weather.

Everything is now in place off the pitch at Seafield Park for the club to make an impact,and if funds can be acquired there is no reason whatsoever that the Grantown club cannot make strides up the table.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

18) FORT WILLIAM

The league’s perennial wooden-spoonists continue to be dogged by foul weather postponing their home matches, and the impact of shinty as the chosen pursuit for most sports-minded youngsters in Lochaber.

Having said that, Fort’s youth programme is one of the very best in the league with dozens of kids heading down to Claggan Park for coaching on a Sunday when the elements allow. If those youngster progress into the senior squad the task facing popular co-managers Ali Smith and Paul MacLellan, will become much less onerous.

  • VERDICT: 5 out of 10

Comments

Breaking

    Cancel