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As the 2023/24 Breedon Highland League campaign approaches, we caught up with gaffer Andy Low to get his thoughts on the season ahead.

One of the key factors in the enduring popularity of football is that it never ends, we just take a short break over the summer. Fans, players and staff at any club are never more optimistic, more full of hope than at the start of the season. Locos fans will certainly be feeling positive about the prospect of some entertaining football at Harlaw Park as Andy Low gets a full pre-season under his belt after returning to the dugout on January.

Locos begin their campaign with a tricky visit to The Haughs to face Turriff United and it doesn’t get any easier, facing 3 of last season’s top 5 in the opening five fixtures. It’s that top 5 that Low has his sights on this season, something he sees as challenging but achievable in his first full season back at the helm. “I don’t expect any of the top five from last season to drastically drop off” he says, “if anything they will improve. I expect Banks of Dee and a couple of others will also have similar aspirations to ourselves.

“My main aim this year in the Highland League is to win more games and increase the consistency levels”

Having finished 39 points behind champions Brechin City last year, closing that gap is a priority. “For me, there was a drop off in quality and consistency levels after those top 5 last year and you see that gap in the league table at the end of the season” Andy continues, “so my main aim this year in the Highland League is to win more games and increase the consistency levels which will then increase our points total and hopefully bring us closer to that group when it comes to February/March time. I don’t want to become separated from the top 5 going into that period which is great to be involved in and you gain experience from it. Of course, I want more, and although I am impatient and want success immediately, I understand that this is a realistic target for Locos this season as we aim to keep on progressing over a period of time. It’s a competitive league, so we aren’t the only one’s thinking and acting in the same way.”

Locos have been a tough opening set Highland League fixtures.

That desire to find consistency will certainly strike a chord with fans, after a frustrating couple of seasons in which Locos have shown they can compete with the best on their day but have struggled at times to hit those levels with the regularity required to challenge for silverware. Locos came close last season, suffering narrow defeat in the Highland League Cup Final, beating Fraserburgh and Brechin City along the way. The manager is desperate to take that extra step, having also fished runners up in the Aberdeenshire Shield in his last spell in charge. “Our aim will also be to go one further and take silverware back to Harlaw Park in the cup competitions. I have now taken the team to two cup finals and lost out on both so I am looking to go one better this season. I believe this is a realistic target for the club. I am determined to put our name on a trophy.”

Dem Yunus was the first signing of the summer, arriving at Harlaw Park from Keith.

More youth and energy

In order to achieve his aims, the manager has been working hard in what is a very competitive transfer market. In addition to Sam Robertson, Jonny Smith, Cole Anderson and Josh Buchan who all arrived at Harlaw Park during the latter part of last season, Dem Yunus, Zack Ellis and Liam Morrison have joined the club this summer. Lowser is pleased with these signings and feels they have improved the squad. “When you make a signing, the first thing I want is an improvement in what we have already or someone that offers something different in style and compliments what we have and each of these guys we have taken in will do that. All three lads we signed in the summer were specific targets for the club. When the season finished, we immediately started the process to get them in. They have all fitted in great in pre-season and I think they have shown what they will bring to Locos in the games we have played so far and there is a lot more to come from each of them. As a whole, with the previous additions we have made, I think we have introduced more youth & energy to the squad and created more competition for places going into the new season which brings out the best in players.”

The manager isn’t ruling out further additions as he continues to look for strength at both ends of the pitch. “We know where we are at as a club and a team and we are always looking to improve if the right opportunity becomes available. I am still looking at more competition in central defence to replace David Wilson who was outstanding for us on loan from Peterhead at the end of last season. I’d also like to add more goals to the side so central & wide forwards is certainly an area we are actively working on. He won’t make signings just for the sake of it though, insisting that it “needs to be the right one’s so we will wait until this becomes available”.

Youngsters deserve their opportunity

Of course, it’s not only outwith the club that new players can be found. Low has maintained his desire to promote young players to the first team and has shown that in pre-season. Blair Smith impressed fans in his 8 appearances last season with Callum Duncan and Taylor Mason also on the fringes of the first team squad. Andy also points to Josh Buchan as a young player in the early stages of his first team career. All have had plenty of gametime in pre-season with Blair and Callum both on target in the win against Stonehaven. Andy thinks the future is bright for all four. “Pre-season is a great opportunity to integrate the young players into the first team environment and all of the lads have done great so far and have big parts to play in the future at the club, they are all currently part of the first team group because they deserve it. Taylor & Callum along with Josh & Blair are all at different stages in their development through how they have arrived at the first team squad. Callum had a great season at Colony last year and you see immediately in preseason the benefits that the loan spell has had playing consistently in the Superleague and I believe he has a big future at Locos. Taylor had a frustrating year last year where he probably didn’t play as much football as he liked but he has shown a great desire to improve and show what he can do and at 17 years old, he also has plenty years in front of him to make an impact at first team level. We will always look to our youth squad first & foremost to see if we can improve our first team squad from within the club and the lads above are a great example of this. The hard work has only just started but they have all earned the right to get to this stage.”

Blair Smith scored on his Locos debut at just 16 years old last season.

It’s not just the youngsters that have impressed the gaffer. A few week into pre-season, he’s been very happy with the efforts of the squad so far and their response to his demands. “I was delighted with how the lads returned to pre-season, in great shape and their application towards the first 3 weeks and the standards we are trying to implement in training leading up to the games has been very good. I would say so far, we have only shown glimpses of what we are looking to do in games and it is very much a work in progress. Now, I am really pushing to make a big improvement in our performance over 90 minutes leading up to the first game against Turriff which will be a very tough game. We have been fair with everyone in the squad over the first 4 games, gave them opportunities in their favoured positions as well as looking at a couple of other ideas that we have had, this is the time to do it. It was important everyone was given a fresh start, under a completely different style of play and demands, to show what they can do.”

Show intentions

As the season approaches, the aim is to hit the ground running for the opening fixture at the end of this month. “Full focus now goes on finishing pre-season strongly,” Andy says, “and the players know that they have to take the opportunity when they get it. I look at performance levels over results in pre-season and we know we need to make big improvements and show our intentions for the season ahead. That is the target from here on in”.