By Charlie Harris
Cove Rangers have started life in League One in the same manner they finished life in League Two – deservedly top of the table.
Under the leadership of Paul Hartley, the South Aberdeen side have turned from a Highland League team, to SPFL League One title contenders in just a couple of seasons, despite the division including the likes of Falkirk, Partick Thistle and Airdrie.
Following in the footsteps of other former Highland League clubs Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Cove have their eyes set on the top tier of Scottish football – a not so unrealistic dream given that they sit top of League One with 12 points from 12.
Cove are destined for the top, and here are five reasons why.
Falkirk fans may disagree, but Paul Hartley is a good manager, with a proven track record in the Scottish lower leagues. With Alloa he won two back to back promotions, before winning the Championship with Dundee the following season.
This is an impressive record when you also consider last season’s League Two title victory with Cove. That’s four promotions won in his career, with the only real blot on his CV being his miserable 10 month spell at The Bairns.
Hartley seems to have learned from his experience at Falkirk, and with Dundee in the Premiership, to become a better manager, averaging over two points per game in his time at Cove, better than he has achieved at any other club, although admittedly on a smaller sample size.
This is the most important aspect of any team’s chances of achieving promotion and moving up the leagues, and Cove have as good a squad as anyone in League One, lined with experience.
Cove’s forward line is always commended by neutrals and fans of other teams alike, and rightfully so as it is the strongest area of their team. Mitch Megginson has started the season in fine form with five league goals, averaging 1.31 every 90 minutes. One of the only players in the league with a better record is teammate Rory McAllister, who has averaged 1.75 goals per 90 minutes, including a vital winner against Partick Thistle.
This season another star performer has been midfielder Blair Yule, who managed to get himself in the team of the week for the entire SPFL. The former Arbroath man is in his second spell at the club, having previously played for Cove between 2010 and 2017.
He has been recognised this season for his energy in the middle of the park and willingness to drive forward, in what is a more attacking role than he has been accustomed to, having played right back much of last season.
The Style of Play
Like any team with realistic aims of promotion, Cove score plenty goals whilst being solid at the back. They play an expansive style, which has looked like a 4-4-2 most commonly this season with wide-men Jamie Masson and Leighton McIntosh pushing high up to create a 4-2-4 when Cove attack.
Most of their attacking play comes from giving their strikers plenty of the ball, and this allows their best players to be involved in build-up play as much as possible. Mitch Megginson in particular is given license to roam and create his own opportunities, clearly evidenced in Cove’s 3-0 victory against Forfar, where Megginson dropped deep and wide to create chances.
The Club Trajectory
Cove Rangers are a club with ambition, and this can be clearly seen by the progress they have made over the past couple of seasons. They are an SPFL side for the first time in their history, won a league in their first season after promotion and have moved into a brand-new purpose-built stadium.
At their new home, Balmoral Stadium, Cove have won every single league game they have ever played, a somewhat ominous thought for any visiting side.
Good home form is essential for any title challenge and Cove certainly have that, but with on eye on the future, having an arena where away teams are afraid of visiting is a massive positive for the club as they look to climb even further up the SPFL.
Cove have recently suffered Betfred Cup defeats to Dundee and Hibernian, but these experiences will only stand them in good stead for when they ultimately achieve promotion to the Championship, and potentially beyond.
Finally, Cove’s opposition this season in League One are yet to set the heather alight, with preseason favourites Partick Thistle already trailing by eight points, after losing to The Wee Rangers on Matchday Three. This is after only four games.
Falkirk, who were also fancied before a ball was kicked, trail by four points in second place, but the two teams face each other in the next round of fixtures. Whilst we are only one month into the season, this game could have huge repercussions for either sides promotion push, with Cove certainly in the driving seat for the league title if they grab a win on November 21st.
This is of course to be taken with a pinch of salt as there are still over 20 games to play, but Cove Rangers will be buoyed by how well they have started their maiden League One campaign.