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Ambitious East Kilbride expecting Billy Stark to secure SPFL promotion

Thursday 3rd August 2017
As preparations conclude for the 2017-18 campaigns of most European football leagues, both the Scottish Highland and Lowland equivalents have already started, but can East Kilbride secure promotion to the SPFL from the Lowland League after narrowly missing that target last term.

Although the modern-day East Kilbride FC was founded as late as 2010, they were one of the founder members of the Scottish Lowland League which began with a 2013-14 campaign and has since become more competitive with the introduction of promotion play-offs. ‘Kilby' finished as runners-up in 2015, but it was their exploits in the Scottish Cup during February 2016 which attracted most attention as they were paired with Celtic in the fifth round. The tie was staged at the Excelsior Stadium in Airdrie and nearly 8,000 spectators witnessed a 2-0 defeat for Kilbride, but the revenues generated from that game helped with the progression of the Glasgow based team.

Under the management of Martin Lauchlan, Kilby embarked upon a 14-match winning sequence at the beginning of the 2016-17 Lowland League season before clinching the title via a 6-1 win at Gala Fairydean back in April. A 4-3 aggregate victory against Highland League champions Buckie Thistle was then earned for which they then were rewarded with a two-legged playoff tie against Cowdenbeath to hopefully secure a place in Scottish League Two.

However, East Kilbride were unable to claim promotion after losing 5-3 on penalties and soon afterwards, the departure of Lauchlan and his backroom staff were announced, with former boss also claiming the non-payment of several thousand pounds in bonus payments owed to him by the club.

Lauchlan has since been replaced by the experienced and former Scotland caretaker manager Billy Stark, and he will be expected to succeed where his predecessor failed by claiming that all important berth in the SPFL by the finish of the current campaign. Yet, it has not been a particularly favourable start to the campaign for East Kilbride.

As winners of the Lowland League, Kilby were allowed to participate in the recent group stage of the Betfred Scottish League Cup. Drawn against Hamilton, Albion Rovers, Queen of the South and Stenhousemuir, the Glasgow team claimed just one victory from four games and were eliminated. However, manager Stark has claimed that the energy expended in those four ties has adversely affected their start to the new Lowland League campaign.

A far from convincing 1-0 home win against Dalbeattie Star was registered in their opening game but a late equaliser allowed BSC Glasgow to claim a 1-1 draw in a midweek encounter at K-Park. It was the sixth competitive game in eighteen days for Kilbride, with Stark claiming both fatigue and teams striving to beat the champions as reasons for the indifferent start to the league campaign. Declan Hughes and Sean Winter are also the only two Kilby players to have netted for the team in those six competitive matches to date, while last season's leading striker Joao Victoria has already departed for Albion Rovers.

Stark has also suggested that retaining the title this season will be more difficult as BSC, Spartans and East Stirling are expected to provide a serious challenge at the top of the table although Hawick Royal Albert can probably be discounted after suffering 7-0 and 10-0 defeats in their opening two matches.

It could be a more difficult campaign than expected for Stark after following the popular Lauchlan into the Kilbride hot seat, and besides the necessity to obtain a continuous series of positive results, he will also be aware of the need to attract more than the average 150-200 spectators to the K-Park Stadium from within a sizeable catchment area.
John Welsh
I am a freelance sports writer specialising in football covering Premier League, EFL and English non-leagues plus top leagues in France, Germany and Italy. I have written for Inside Futbol, Football Weekends plus football previews for Hong Kong Jockey Club, and I’m also the author of book First Touch, a novel covering the exploitation of young African footballers and their experiences in Europe.

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