AS another East of Scotland season is set to kick-off on August 19, our roving reporter Neil Hobson looks ahead and gives his predictions.

1st: Kelty Hearts (Champions)

The big move for the maroon men is finally here after jumping ship from the ranks of junior football to the EOS. Tam Court’s outfit will be looking to ensure a swift romp through the East of Scotland before securing passage to the Lowland League. The switch to the pyramid system from the East Region Super League is a bold move but I can see Kelty winning the league with some degree of comfort thanks to an already strong squad supplemented with some excellent summer moves; including the acquisition of former Livingston and Cowdenbeath defender Kenny Adamson, whilst also beating off competition from SPFL club Arbroath for the signature of highly rated 20-year-old left back Scott Taylor-Mckenzie from Lothian Thistle - a man who plundered an astronomical 26 goals last season for the Saughton side. Backed by an ambitious committee and a forward-thinking manager one thing is for certain, all eyes will be on New Central Park.

2nd: Leith Athletic

It was a funny old year down at Meadowbank last season; missing out on the title by six points to Lothian whilst also losing manager Derek Riddell to Spartans - a scenario that would be considered the stuff of nightmares for many clubs but, a King Cup triumph also proved that Leith remain one of the top dogs in the EOS. A policy of promotion from within has continued at Meadowbank with U21s Head Coach, Stevie Chalmers, appointed to the hot-seat. Keeping the majority of last season’s squad is one huge victory already this summer, with Leith’s brand of pulsating football likely ensuring they’re one of the few teams capable of going toe-to-toe with Kelty. However, the sheer financial and footballing powers of the Jambos will likely see Leith trail in their wake as second-best.

3rd: Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale

Raymond Carr meticulously builds upon his Lothian Thistle team year after year, with last season’s title winning exploits a prime example of Carr’s philosophy that saw his team take the league flag back to Saughton. They had, and might still have, everything in that side; goals, a solid defence and an abundance of mental strength as evidenced with their victory over Peebles in February despite going down to nine-men. Losing Taylor-Mckenzie to Kelty deprives Carr’s team of a significant attacking outlet but James Guy and Sean Wringe could yet replicate last year’s stunning form in front of goal. Whilst I think Lothian will play to their usual high-standards, I suspect Leith may just have the upper hand psychologically this year as they seek vengeance for last year’s title loss.

4th: Preston Athletic

The undisputed whipping boys of last season’s Lowland League with a meagre 16 points, relegated Preston arrive in the East of Scotland as something of an unknown quantity. With Craig Nisbet’s departure at the end of that torrid campaign, Paul Riley and Jack Lynch step into the dug-out to take on the unenviable task of sealing a return to the Lowland League. Keeping the majority of last season’s team offers a level of consistency, with the retention of chief goal threat Jason Young a bonus, but the fact is that the EOS is a fiercely competitive league - with a season of acclimatization probably required before securing eventual promotion.

5th: Tynecastle

Steven Vinter must have been scratching his head at the end of last season’s campaign. Many onlookers, myself included, fancied Tynecastle to scrap it out with Leith and Lothian for the league title with their exciting brand of flair football that tore teams apart with frightening ruthlessness. Postponed fixtures, flooded pitches and pure inconsistency then saw Tynie stutter to a disappointing end in a season that promised so much. For me, Tynecastle remain some way behind Kelty and their Edinburgh neighbours in terms of quality and another season of disappointing mediocrity could be on the horizon if they don’t get off to a good start.

6th: Heriot-Watt University

Not many expected the Riccarton students to punch above their weight as they did last season; finishing fourth with a hugely impressive 39 points as Banji Koya’s team emerged as the surprise package in the division. Long-serving ‘keeper Craig Saunders has departed for Hawick Royal Albert but Koya has retained a significant proportion of his squad. Naturally, clubs experience injuries and suspensions across the course of a season but, if all goes to plan, I can see Koya steering Watt through another steady campaign.

7th: Peebles Rovers

Following a season where his side experienced more ups and downs than a particularly elaborate rollercoaster, Ger Rossi will be looking to iron out the mistakes that prevented his Rovers side from breaking into the upper echelons of the league. Having retained last season’s squad, whilst signing Ross Lamb on a permanent basis from Vale, the Whitestone Park outfit look a more solid, gelled and disciplined unit compared to last season. Whilst perhaps lacking the cutting edge of their Edinburgh counterparts, Rossi’s side possess an iron determination and fighting spirit- a quality that will be needed in a particularly tough league this year.

8th: Eyemouth United

A swift rise, followed by a disappointing drop was what Eyemouth experienced last year. The Warner Park side’s brief foray to the top of the table in the early months of last season gave birth to the exciting notion that Stuart Wilson could lead them to silverware. Whilst that didn’t quite pan out, Eyemouth are still going to be tricky opposition this season with players such as Aidan Lauder in the ranks. Simply put, expect the unexpected at Warner Park.

9th: Coldstream

This was a tough one. Grant Davidson’s Streamers enjoyed a fine season in 2016/17 but a new year and a new intake of signings could spell different fortunes at Home Park, for better or for worse. Whilst they are fully capable of finishing highly, I can maybe see a minor drop as the likes of Peebles and Eyemouth strengthen.

10th: Stirling University

I must confess, Stirling flew somewhat below my radar this year as Alan Taylor’s side finished at a solid, if somewhat unremarkable, sixth place. A new Alan steps into the dug-out in the shape of Alan Morgan. Whilst the students possess a mental strength that often allows them to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as evidenced with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Peebles in December, I suspect Stirling may struggle this season.

11th: Ormiston

A total of 16 defeats for the East Lothian side last year as they laboured to a ninth-placed finish with just 12 points. They remain somewhat lacking in attacking terms and, unless their summer recruits slam into top-form for the new season, I can see Ormiston labouring again this year.

12th: Tweedmouth Rangers

Although not quite on Burntisland’s level, Rangers’ start to life in the East of Scotland was a disappointing one at best. Mark Reid’s team often found themselves on the end of some unpleasant results. Quality does exist in the ranks, with ‘keeper John Patterson a notable presence for the Northumberland outfit. However, it’s difficult to see Tweedmouth seriously compete this year with another tough season likely.

13th: Burntisland Shipyard

For a club the size of Shippy, what happened at Recreation Park last year was nothing short of remarkable. Scoring just twelve, and letting in a mammoth ninety-four goals, Burntisland propped up the league table for much of last season’s campaign. Clubs such as Eyemouth and Heriot-Watt tore Shipyard apart thanks to a weak defence and their toothless attack. A raft of new signings has arrived this summer, but Shipyard are likely to face another year of hardship.