BERWICK Rangers manager Alan McGonigal admits his new-look side have been handed the most difficult start to the season possible when they take on beaten Scottish Cup finalists Queen of the South this afternoon.
Almost a month before their English counterparts kick off their season, and still in the height of the summer, Rangers will attempt to pull off a huge shock against the Division One side in the first round of the Scottish Challenge Cup.
Gordon Chisholm’s Doonhamers will play in the Uefa Cup this season after losing out to Rangers at Hampden in May, and represent the stiffest possible test that the draw could have thrown up.
But while McGonigal – who could hand as many as six debuts – admits that his side are definite underdogs, he insists they won’t be over-awed by the challenge.
“As a way to star the season, it doesn’t get any harder for us than this,” he said.
“The squad that Gordon has got together will quite rightly be considered favourites to get into the SPL – their ambitions have just got bigger and bigger over the last few seasons. In Peter Tosh they have one of the best midfielders in the country, in my opinion. I don’t think there would be too many teams in the SPL who would turn their noses up at him.
“But they proved last season that it can be done and we’ve got to use that as some kind of motivation. We’re full-time and they’re part-time, but that probably won’t have too much effect at this stage of the season. We’ve all been going at it full pace in pre-season, playing the same kind of games and working really hard so that shouldn’t come into play.
“They might have that extra bit of quality to see them through, but whatever happens it’s an excellent marker of where we are.”
It has been a summer of change at Shielfield Park, where McGonigal has recruited six new players to fill the gaps left after last season’s disappointing relegation.
Among the new faces are Livingston goalkeeper Mark Lunn, former Falkirk defender Peter McMahon, East Fife defender Graham Guy and David Grant from Stirling-based Milton Academicals – and most of them should figure this afternoon.
McGonigal wants to add one more player before the start of the SFL season in a week’s time – and accepts that it might take time for his new group to gel together.
“Of course, that is always something of a worry but I’m happy with the players that we have managed to bring in,” he said. Pre-season has gone very well, though, the players seem to have settled quite well and all being well we will manage to hit the ground running. In the games that we have played I think that we have shown enough to suggest that we’re going to do well.
“Having come down from the division above we know we’re going to be among the favourites to go back up again. We’re really optimistic – I think we look as if we’re going to score goals next year, although we maybe need one more defender with a bit of experience to add the finishing touches to our squad.”