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PRE-SEASON friendlies and the Betfred Cup have come and gone with Stranraer’s focus firmly on the 36 games of League One.

Raith Rovers, who came within a post of promotion to the Championship last season, are the first visitors to Stair Park tomorrow (Saturday) at 3pm.

Both sides have undergone big changes over the summer.

Raith had the upper hand over the four games last campaign, with the Blues winning one and losing three of the encounters.

Stevie Farrell spoke to the club’s website ahead of Saturday's league opener to discuss the upcoming 10 months.

Q: How do you feel the squad is shaping up?

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Stevie: If you had asked me that (after the penalty shoot-out win over Motherwell), I would have said excellent. If you asked me that (following defeats to Clyde and Edinburgh City), I would have said we’ve got a work in progress and a long way to go. I think, if we are being absolutely honest, that is what we have got.

We have got a majority of young kids, a lot inexperience there, and we are going to have to teach them the game and a lot of aspects, managing the game. That is a lot of work on the training field but we will work hard and we will prepare one game at a time.

Q: Maybe it is comparing apples with oranges but how do you compare this year’s squad with last year’s squad?

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Stevie: I don’t think we finished with any points last year in the Betfred, so, we are two points better off this year.

I would say we have moved forward. But, in reality, last year, I had an experienced squad going into the season. I had Bells, I had Thomsons, I had Wallaces and I don’t have that this year.

I have a different type of player. I have an inexperienced player, I have a hungrier player, I have an energetic player but I don’t have that know how and that understanding that those players had.

So, somehow, we have just got to work hard, get on the training field and try to coach them the game. We need to coach them the game, coach them periods of the game, and that is only going to come from hard work.

Q: Obviously, it goes without saying, last season was eventful. Are you hoping for it to be a bit more straightforward?

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Stevie: No, it will be eventful. I’ve told people round about the club that it is going to be eventful. You cannot bring in as many young players as we have got and not expect a rollercoaster.

They are still learning the game. They are great when the game is going their way, they are excellent, but they don’t know quite how to handle it when the game is competitive at a League One level and is going against them. That has been proven the last two games.

So, we have just got to get them on the training field and get continually drilling them and drilling them. I think what you will see is us getting better as the season progresses and through the course of the season. I have no doubt about that.

Q: Do you think you are better equipped? What have you learned in the last 12 months?

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Stevie: I don’t think I have ever changed as a coach. I love coaching, I love to drill, I love to shape teams up, I love to manage players, manage people, manage individuals. That does not change.

Have I learnt a lot? Of course, I have learnt a lot. It was a difficult season last season but we came through it, we battled through it and we stuck together as a football club and got through it. We will do the same this season.

Q: Do you think the fact there has been such a big overhaul that it maybe gives you a slight advantage in that you are a dark horse and teams will not know that much about you?

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Stevie: I think if people have watched the last two games we will maybe be tipped for second bottom of League Two, never mind League One. Nobody hates getting beat more than me but I am also a realist and I have got that mind to keep it nice and sensible.

I don’t react to people making wild allegations that we are going to do this or that, this is going to happen to us or that is going to happen to us. I know – I see them week in week out – I know what I have got at my disposal and we will be absolutely fine.

Q: Similarly, do you think there is less pressure on you just on the turnover of players and, as you say, there are a lot of young boys making their first starts?

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Stevie: No because that is not the way football works. It just isn’t. People will not see that we have brought the wage bill at this club down considerably. We have brought the highest paid players down, probably 50 per cent.

Nobody sees that because people are quick to forget that and just look at their team on a Saturday and one result. I get that and I accept that but pound for pound we are probably going to go in with one of the lowest budgets in the league. That is a reality. People might not want to hear it but it is a fact.

We just need to go with what we have got. We have built the squad and we will go and try to be as competitive as we possibly can.

Q: Is that, pure and simple, the target for the season? Go and be as competitive as we can?

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Stevie: The target for the season, when we spoke to the club at the start of the season, we knew the financial difficulties, we knew the restraints, we knew the differential between last season and this season and the target was to stay in League One. It has not changed.

I am not going to go and blow hot wind, rainbows and be fluffy about it. The reality is we have got a job to stay in League One. But, as I always say, come May, we will be in League One.

Team news

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Stevie Farrell's attacking options for this weekend could be strengthened by the potential return of summer signing Isaac Layne and creative midfielder Kyle Turner, with both facing a late fitness test. However, young winger Cameron Elliott.is suspended and will miss out.

Title favourites Raith Rovers on the other hand could be missing as many as six players.

Danger man Lewis Vaughan is ruled out through injury, along with goalkeeper Robbie Thomson, striker Chris Duggan and winger Nathan Flanagan.

To add to boss Barry Smith's woes, centre back Iain Davidson is suspended and midfielder Lewis Milne is rated doubtful

Last meeting

Stranraer 0-3 Raith Rovers
Saturday 21 April 2018

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ONE week after halting title challengers Ayr United, Stranraer came unstuck against Raith Rovers.

The Kirkcaldy side only took five minutes to open the scoring when Euan Murray flicked home Lewis Vaughan’s corner. Scott Robertson almost got the Blues back into it with a first-time shot but Graeme Smith stood tall to make the block.

Still, it was the visitors who found that all important second goal and it would come just before the half time whistle. This time, Dario Zanatta was the provider as his cross was perfect for Liam Buchanan to beat Max Currie with a header.

Stranraer tried to get back into it but Raith held firm after the half time interval, with Cameron Elliott and Kyle Turner threatening for the Blues.

Any chance of a comeback was killed off with just under 15 minutes left. Stranraer were pushing forward and were caught on the break, with Vaughan finding the net against Stranraer for the fourth time that season.

Stranraer: Currie, Robertson, Neill, McGowan, Hamill, MacPherson (Hawkshaw 74), Agnew, Anderson, Turner, Elliott (Dykes 62), Okoh (Baxter 62).
Not used: Barron, Scott, Gray and McLaren.

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, McHattie, Murray, Davidson, Robertson, Barr, Hendry, Buchanan (Spence 79), Vaughan (Furtado 89), Zanatta (Matthews 88).
Not used: Benedictus, Herron, Court and Brian.

Last five meetings

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- Stranraer 0 Raith Rovers 3 (Murray, Buchanan and Vaughan) at Stair Park on April 21, 2018
- Stranraer 1 Raith Rovers 0 (Beith) at Stair Park on January 20, 2018
- Raith Rovers 3 Stranraer 0 (Spence, Buchanan and Vaughan) at Stark’s Park on December 30, 2017
- Raith Rovers 3 Stranraer 0 (Vaughan x2 and Spence) at Stark’s Park on August 12, 2017
- Stranraer 0 Raith Rovers 3 (Williamson, Sloan and Hislop) at Stair Park on April 4, 2009

Stranraer's last five games

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LOSS v Edinburgh City (A): 4-2 (Cummins and Anderson)
LOSS v Clyde (H): 1-3 (Anderson)
WIN v Motherwell (H): 1-1 (Stranraer win 3-2 on penalties) (Layne)
LOSS v Queen of the South (A): 5-3 (McGowan, Donnelly and Turner)
LOSS v Stirling Albion (H): 0-2

Raith Rovers' last five games

LOSS v Cove Rangers (A): 2-0
LOSS v Inverness Caledonian Thistle (A): 2-1 (Gillespie)
LOSS v Heart of Midlothian (H): 1-1 (Hearts win 4-2 on penalties) (Nisbet)
LOSS v Cowdenbeath (H): 0-2
WIN v Dunfermline Athletic (H): 2-1 (Gillespie and Matthews)
*Home ties played at New Bayview due to pitch work at Stark's Park

Last time out

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Stranraer lineup v Edinburgh City: Avci, McGowan, McDonald, D Smith, Hamill, Cummins, McManus, Donnelly (Ashmore 84), Anderson, Lamont (Elliott 69), I Smith.
Not used: Brownlie, Lidington and Currie.

Raith Rovers lineup v Cove Rangers: Thomson (McGuff 58), Watson, Murray, Benedictus, McKay, Milne, Matthews, Wedderburn, Stevenson (Valentine 46), Duggan (Buchanan 14), Nisbet.
Not used: Davidson and Berry.

Referee

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DAVID Lowe starts his fifth season as a referee at this level with a trip to Stair Park - a ground where he officiated twice last term.

The latest of those came in March when Stranraer threw away a two goal lead against Albion Rovers. Kyle Turner scored twice in two minutes to have the Blues on top in the first half before the visitors launched an impressive second half comeback. Gary Fisher pulled one back six minutes after the restart but it was the final eight minutes where the game was decided. Substitute Kane Hester levelled things and then fellow sub Craig McLeish won it four minutes from time.

Mr Lowe was also in the middle when Raith visited Cliftonhill in September 2017. Again, it was the Coatbridge side who came out winners. Prolific Alan Trouten had the hosts in front and again there was late drama with Connor Shields doubling the advantage seven minutes from time. Greig Spence pulled one back for the visitors but it was not enough.

The new 2018/19 home and away kits are now available to order online:

new kit

SPFL 3L1 6474

POS
TEAM PLD
PTS
1 Arbroath 17 45
2 Raith Rovers 17 32
3 East Fife 17 26
4 Forfar Athletic 17 24
5 Montrose 17 21
6 Airdrieonians 17 20
7 Stranraer 16 20
8 Dumbarton 17
18
9 Brechin City 16 16
10 Stenhousemuir 17 15


Fixtures

2018/19 Squad

1 - Max Currie (GK)
2 - Daniel Higgins (DEF)

3 - Chris McGowan (DEF)
4 - Andy McDonald (DEF)
5 - David Brownlie (DEF)
6 - Connor McManus (MID)
7 - Mark Lamont (MID)
8 - Kyle Turner (MID)
10 - Luke Donnelly (STR)
11 - Grant Anderson (M/S)
12 - Ian Smith (MID)

13 - Lyle Avci (GK)
14 - Cameron Elliott (MID)
16 - Max Ashmore (MID)
17 - David Smith (D/M)
18 - Innes Cameron (STR)
19 - Ciaran Diver (STR)
20 - PJ Crossan (STR)

22 - Jamie Hamill (DEF)
23 - Adam Cummins (DEF)