Formartine United player-manager Paul Lawson is confident his side can mount a serious title challenge this season.
Cove Rangers’ promotion to the League 2 through the SPFL pyramid play-offs means a new champion will be crowned at the end of this season.
Lawson, whose side finished fourth last term, sees no reason why they can’t push for top spot.
He said: “Buckie Thistle won the league title a couple of years ago but Cove Rangers have been the dominant team in the Highland League over the last few seasons and thoroughly deserved promotion.
“I think we can mount a serious challenge for the Highland League title this season.
“We’re excited going into the new season and we certainly want to improve on last term.
Formartine picked up silverware last season by defeating Banks o’ Dee 4-1 in the final of the Aberdeenshire Shield but Lawson felt the 2018-19 campaign left room for improvement.
He added: “We wanted to mount a better challenge for the title than we did.
“Winning the Aberdeenshire Shield was nice but we should always be up there at the top of the league challenging and in cup finals. It was nice to get to the Highland League Cup final but unfortunately we were unable to defend the trophy, losing to Cove in the final.”
Looking ahead to the new season, Lawson said: “Inverurie Locos have strengthened and Fraserburgh are always going to be up there challenging for honours as Mark Cowie is a really good manager.
“Brora Rangers will also be looking to push on. The 2016-17 champions Buckie Thistle have a lot of their long-term injured players back so it could be an interesting race for the title.”
- Ground: North Lodge Park
- Colours: Red and white stripes
- Honours: Highland League Cup 2017-18; Aberdeenshire Cup 2013-14, 2017-18; Aberdeenshire Shield 2018-19
- Manager: Paul Lawson
- Season 18-19: Finished 4th
Garry Wood doesn’t care where he plays for Formartine United this season as long as he gets a regular game.
The former Ross County and Montrose player said: “I prefer to play in attack but I’ve also been utilised in a left-midfield role and at centre half at Formartine.
“The manager knows I have no issue playing wherever he wants me to.
“We really underperformed in the league last season so we need to freshen up our squad to challenge for the title.
“We’ve shown, especially in the cup competitions, that we can beat anybody on our day.”
The 30-year-old feels that newly-promoted Cove Rangers could be a force in League 2 on their maiden season in the SPFL.
He added: “It depends who Cove recruit but I would have fancied the squad they had in the Highland League last season to get to the play-offs.
“If they strengthen in certain areas I think they could win that league.
“The two strongest teams, Clyde and Peterhead, who were head and shoulders above anyone else last term, have now gone .
“So in my eyes it certainly opens up the league.”