THE new Scottish Highland Football League season begin with a bang for Nairn County as they make the trip to Mosset Park and a derby clash with Forres Mechanics on the opening day.
Both clubs will be eager to improve on their showing from last season with the Mechanics conjuring up a sixth place finish in the final standings, meaning they will now have their sights on breaking into the top four and challenging for the championship come the end of the campaign.
County, on the other end, finished in 13th place having been forced in a complete rebuild of the squad at short notice and having blooded several youngsters throughout the campaign, will be aiming to reel in those teams immediately above them in the standings and make further progress, having rode a wave of positivity throughout the club last year.
That will not be easy for manager Ronnie Sharp though, who had been set to deal with a handful of departures at the end of last season only the learn that a further five members of his playing pool would be unavailable for pre-season and at least the opening stages of the campaign, putting him in a similar position to the one he found himself 12 months previously.
While Forres were making a handful of shrewd additions to their squad to build on what they already have, Sharp was scouring around for replacements as he looks to field a squad capable of improving upon last season's achievements, having so far brought seven new faces to Station Park.
You can follow live updates from this season opener through the Nairn County social media channels at facebook.com/nairncountyfc and @NairnCounty on Twitter. Team lines will be available before kick-off with coverage of all of the major talking points as the match progresses, a report on the final whistle and reaction from Ronnie Sharp later in the evening. Preview below:
Date: Saturday July 29th 2017
Competition: Scottish Highland Football League
Opponents: Forres Mechanics
Manager: Charlie Rowley
Venue: Mosset Park, Forres
Previous meeting: Forres Mechanics 7 Nairn County 1 March 22nd 2017
Last time out: n/a
League position: n/a
Form guides: n/a
Team news: County start the season with Gregg Main and Gary Kerr still ruled out because of knee injuries while Calum Riddell is unavailable due to being away on honeymoon and hard man midfielder Kenny McKenzie is suspended. With Dylan Maclean away on holiday, Stephen Foster has been brought in on loan from Inverness CT and he is in contention to make his competitive debut as are summer signings Adam Naismith, Ewen Urquhart, Max Ewan, Cohen Ramsay and Ryan MacDonald with fellow close season capture Adam Porritt a doubt along with Callum Maclean. Jason Morganti and Stephen Mackenzie will also not be available as they have work commitments.
One to watch: Lee Fraser. The big centre forward is among the most powerful attackers in the Highland League and he rag-dolled the County defence when these two sides last met at Mosset Park a little over five months ago. As well as his aerial presence, Fraser presents an equally impressive threat with the ball at his feet with the striker's hold-up and link-up play bringing other attacking options into play for the Can Cans. With this being the opening match of the season, the Mechanics' main threat will be looking to start the campaign in a positive manner and the Nairn defence will have to be on their guard to prevent him from finding the net.
Match officials: Referee Stephen Brown, Assistants Andrew Bannerman and Gordon Seago.
Weather forecast: Light rain 16 degrees 11 mph wind.
Admission prices: Adults £8 Concessions £5 (two children under the age of 14 are admitted for free if they are accompanied by a paying adult).