Last season’s Highland League player of the year Andrew Macrae reckons the race for the championship is wide open.
The Brora Rangers attacker hopes his side can get the defence of their title off to a winning start when they begin the 2020-21 campaign with a trip to Deveronvale this afternoon.
Macrae believes the shortened 15-game season means there is little margin for error for any team hoping to lift the trophy at the end of the campaign.
He said: “It has been a long time coming.
“It feels like it has been one of the longest seasons so far and it hasn’t even started.
“I think ourselves, Rothes, Fraserburgh and Inverurie Locos are probably the main teams who will be up there this season, but, with only 15 games, anyone can win the league this season.
“When I was at Forres we went on a 15 or 16-game unbeaten run and during that run we would have been top of the league on form.
“It shows what can be done, so we will need to be at the races every week.”
The 2019-20 Highland League season was halted in March by the coronavirus pandemic and Macrae admits the extended break from regular football has made him cherish being on the pitch more than ever.
He said: “It has made me realise how much I value my football, even just being able to train with the rest of the team.
“I was just going out on runs during lockdown and I hated it.
“It was a six-month pre-season.
“The long break has probably given a lot of the players more drive because they will appreciate it so much more.
“I am setting myself targets, even though it is half-a-season.
“I scored 20 league goals and 28 in all competitions last season. It would be nice to get a good return this season.”
Macrae expects a tricky encounter at Princess Royal Park this afternoon against the Vale.
He said: “We can’t afford to slip up.
“Deveronvale can be very tough on their own patch.
“Their ground is next to the sea and it can be very windy.
“We have scraped victories there in the past and they will be out to prove people wrong.
“We expect nothing other than a difficult game.”
Deveronvale boss Steve Dolan also expects an intriguing title race this season.
He said: “The league is going to be very open with five or six teams in with a shout.
“I’m not a big fan of the half season. I think it is a bit false.
“Playing a full season means you get a true champion.
“Whoever wins it will still deserve it, but it is open and it will be very much fixture related.
“It might come down to whether a team gets Brora at home or if Brora gets their nearest challengers at home.
“The home and away aspect could have a big say in who wins the league.
“A few teams will fancy their chances and it will depend on the start.
“Hopefully we can upset one of them in the first game.”
Defender Iain Foggo is hoping to make a winning return to Fort William in today’s meeting with Strathspey Thistle at Claggan Park.
The 27-year-old, who left Fort to join Clach in the summer of 2018, said: “There are probably only two or three players from when I was at the club before.
“We have a lot of new faces, but the squad is looking good.
“We are getting 100 fans in this weekend, which will be great.
“The pressure is on because we want to take something from the game.
“The target for the season is to get as far away from the bottom of the table as we can and build from there.”
The sides met in the penultimate round of fixtures before lockdown with Strathspey winning 1-0 at Claggan Park.
Jags boss Gordon Nicolson said: “We had one of our last games there before Covid hit and the Fort Ultras made it a cracking atmosphere.
“I’d like to think the game will be well supported this weekend.
“It is a new Fort side and management team. A lot of the team last season was made up of Caley Thistle players. Two or three of the boys from last year are still there, but there will be a lot of new faces.
“We will just prepare ourselves properly and try to get off to a good start.
“Fort will have their own ambitions, so we will expect a tough Saturday.”