Senior rivals hoping Spartans' East Premier defence goes west

The intensive training regimes and pre-season friendlies are now behind the 12 teams who start their Central Taxis Premier Division campaigns tomorrow hoping that this will be their season to challenge for the championship.

The title holders for the past two seasons, Spartans, are the team all the others will be determined to match after the Ainslie Park club won the league by an all-time record of 15 points last time out.

Spartans also picked up the King Cup, League Cup and the SFA South Region Challenge Cup, although they did miss out in the Image Printers East of Scotland Qualifying Cup which was won by Gretna 2008.

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Spartans are determined to hold on to their trophies and even increase their impressive haul, although joint manager Mike Lawson appreciates that will be a massive challenge.

He said: "We will definitely be trying to go one better than last season when Vale of Leithen beat us in the Image Printers Cup semi-final.

"Basically, Sam Lynch and I prepare for a new season as we prepare for every game - that is we want to win the immediate game in front of us. If a team continually wins games then it will win trophies.

"The worst feeling in the world is a Saturday night after a defeat then you have to live through a Sunday before going to work on Monday and getting stick from your colleagues. We prepare thoroughly for every game, as does every team, and we don't go into any game thinking that we will not win it. However, to win games players have to perform to the standards they know they can achieve.

"Sam and I will be reminding our players that they had to work hard to achieve what they did last season, especially at the end of the season when they won three cups in six days.

"Spartans will again be the team everybody wants to shoot down and we have to live with that. At our level, if any team has a good game then they can beat us. However, if we prepare mentally and physically then the chances are less. I have watched a few of our rivals already this season in friendlies and Whitehill Welfare, Edinburgh City and Stirling University are totally different from last season. We probably have more experience having lost only defender Dan Gerrard but we have added Chris Townsley from Alloa Athletic and Jack Beesley from Edinburgh University."

Last season's runners-up, Whitehill Welfare, have manager Paul Cavanagh starting his first full campaign in charge and signings including striker Scott Gormley from Whitburn should increase their chances of taking the title from Spartans.

Lothian Thistle, who finished a very creditable third last season, have lost leading goalscorer Wayne McIntosh, who has joined Tynecastle and his 33 goals will be hard to replace.

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As well as McIntosh, Tynecastle manager Murray Balloch has added Steven McCormack from Whitehill and they could be contenders under the guidance of coach David Bingham.

Edinburgh City were seventh last season and joint managers John Green and Gary Jardine are keen to improve. They have signed Joe Dingwall and Euan Black from Stirling University, Kevin Cairnie from Preston Athletic and Ruaraidh Scott from Edinburgh University.

Civil Service Strollers consolidated themselves in the Premier Division with a top-half finish and joint bosses Keith Stewart and Andy Raeburn, with new signings Gary Calvey (Whitehill) and Bobby Gay (Preston), are confident of improving.

The three Universities - Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Stirling - are, on their day, all capable of beating any team in the league. Stirling's signings - on paper at least - look very impressive while both Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt have strengthened. Selkirk have avoided the drop for the past three seasons thanks particularly to the form of goalie John Dodds and Vale of Leithen, promoted as runners-up, are looking to maintain their place in the top flight.

"Spartans will again be the team everybody wants to shoot down we have to live with that" mike lawson