Saturday sees us play our opening game of the Lowland League season. Well sort of, we travel to East Kilbride for league action while the rest of the Lowland are in Scottish Cup action for the game that was excluded from the opening day fixtures as we were both playing Betfred group games. Kilby had a rather more successful campaign in the Betfred than us - beating St Mirren on penalties after a goalless draw and winning 1 - 0 away at Edinburgh City.
East Kilbride are one of the newer teams around as befits Scotland's first new town. The town was designated in 1947 although a small rural village had existed in the area for centuries. It now has a population of 80,000 making it the sixth largest in Scotland. The town was created to cope with a housing shortage. None of the new towns have as yet had a league club which has grown organically from the town - Livingston moved Meadowbank and renamed them while Clyde just moved into Cumbernauld - so it's a big ambition for East Kilbride to have league club which is their stated aim.
To that end the football team were formed out of a merger of Stewartfield FC and Jackton Boys Club in 2010, a further two clubs were brought in a bit later - EK Diamonds and EK Wanderers. Even after all the mergers they are not the only football team in town with East Kilbride Thistle playing in the West Region League One (third tier) of the Junior set up. The oldest club in the town East Kilbride YM pre-date the building of the new town and play in the Caledonian Amateur League.
The club made world wide sporting headlines back in 2016 when they broke the record of most consecutive league wins held by the Ajax team of Cruyff, Rep and Neeskens. The record stood at 26 and Kilby went on to record 30 wins.
The town is sometimes known as Polo Mint City thanks to the rather large amount of roundabouts (there are over 60). More importantly East Kilbride was the childhood home to the Reid brothers who formed the incendiary Jesus and Mary Chain in their home town.
They play at the futuristic sounding K-Park training academy in the more pastoral sounding Calderglen Country Park. You don't really expect to find a football ground by a zoo, ornamental gardens, nature trails and 18 hole golf courses. I think the plan is for them to eventually get a stadium in town.
The club started in the amateur ranks before becoming founder members of the Lowland League. They would go on to finish second in 14/15 and win it for the first time in 16/17 before being runners-up again in 17/18 and are the current champions. They missed out on promotion to the league last season losing 5 - 1 to C*v* R*n*e*s on aggregate. Their previous play-off had seen them lose on penalties to Cowdenbeath.
Current manager is Stuart Malcolm who joined the club in at the beginning of last season as assistant manager to Brian Kerr who he had previously worked with at Albion Rovers. The vacancy having arisen when previous manager Billy Stark left to become Scotland under 19s manager Kerr left in October 2018 to be Gary Caldwell's assistant to Partick Thistle and Malcolm took on the manager's role initially on a caretaker basis before being appointed until the end of the season.
It's been a bit of a mixed bag for Kilby so far this season and they currently sit in eighth position on 13 points, just six of the top with a game in hand (this of course being that game in hand, gulp). They started the season, perhaps unsurprisingly, with away wins at Dalbeattie and Vale but stumbled in their first home game losing to Caley Braves. They followed this though with a hard fought away victory at East Stirlingshire before losing at home again, this time to CSS, before kick starting their home season with a thumping win over Edinburgh Uni. Their last league game was a 2 - 2 draw at Broadwood in the famous 'New Town' Derby.
Up front Craig Malcolm (no relation to the boss) and Ruari Paton have nine goals between them. Paton spent last season on loan at Gala from Hibs and notched up 13 goals during the season, he signed for Kilby in the summer where coincidentally last season's Gala manager Dean Shanks is now on the coaching staff. Malcolm is best known for his two spells at Stranraer, broken by a season at Ayr, where in 200 appearances he scored 82 goals. At 32 he provides the experience up front alongside the youth of 19 year old Paton. They clearly need to watched and our defence are going to need to be on top of their game to restrict their opportunities in front of goal. The likely return of Ricky Miller should help strengthen the back line but this will be a real test.
In goal they have the experienced Alan Martin and they also have bags of experience in midfield with Graeme Holmes who had six seasons at Alloa playing 185 games as well as three at Airdrie where he played 69 times on top of shorter spells at Dumbarton, Morton and Albion. This month they have taken three youngsters on loan - defender George Stanger from Hamilton, forward Kieran McGrath from Celtic and defender Sam Fisher from Dundee .
From our point of view you would imagine that Yano will make some changes after last week's performance at Tranent. Dream Team fans will be looking forward to seeing our own premier league loanee Joao, from Rangers, make his debut and hopefully bring some more pace and creativity to the team. Jack Wright appears to be recovering well and scored twice in a friendly this week and Ricky Miller should be available for selection and you would imagine Sean Brennan will return in goal.
This is the first in a particularly difficult run of four league matches and getting anything out of this game will be a welcome bonus and give us all a much needed boost.