After Berwick Rangers produced a superb end-of-season run which almost saw them sneak into the Ladbrokes League 2 play-off spots last season, star striker Darren Lavery is feeling confident.
With a host of new signings, an inspiring manager and plenty of positivity at Shielfield Park, the 24-year-old says that only promotion will do for the Black & Golds this season. Ladbrokes News caught up with the prolific hitman to talk aims, Arbroath and attacking football.
Ladbrokes News: Berwick Rangers had an excellent end to last season’s Ladbrokes League 2 campaign, winning six of the last nine games. Do you think you can keep that form up in the coming season?
Darren Lavery: I think we can. Obviously, we’re looking to start this season as strongly as we finished the last one, and if we do so, this side has a really good chance of challenging at the top this season.
LN: The arrival of manager John Coughlin in November 2015 saw what looked like it could be a very difficult season turn into a campaign where the side came close to taking a play-off spot. Do you feel he’s had a positive influence on the players, and the way you play?
DL: Absolutely. His manner with the players and ethos about how the game should be played has been brilliant. All the boys get on well with him, and we’ve bought into how he wants us to play. I think we look ten times better as a team than we did before his arrival.
The manager is very attack-minded, and the focus has been on playing our own game – not worrying about the opposition. It’s all about the opposition having to cope with us, not our players having to contain them.
That doesn’t mean we don’t focus on defence. The boss puts a lot of emphasis on keeping clean sheets and making sure we’re defensively sound, so that what we do at the other end has maximum impact.
LN: A host of new faces have already arrived at Shielfield Park this summer – the likes of Jordan Sheeryn from Livingston, Kevin McKinlay from Stirling Albion, and several loanees. What can the new arrivals offer for Berwick Rangers?
DL: The new guys definitely give us an added physicality. A lot of the players who have joined are very big, powerful lads – and that gives us another way to win games and dominate the opposition.
Then you have the fact that Kevin McKinlay – amongst others – has a lot of experience, and we have a really good balance between talented youngsters and more senior players.
There’s also a good balance between flair players and the more imposing guys, and that means we can give winning the league a really good go this year.
LN: You hit double figures in goalscoring terms again last season – the fourth League 2 campaign in a row where you’ve managed that. What are your aims personally, and for the club, ahead of next season?
DL: In terms of the team, promotion is our aim, without a shadow of a doubt. Just reaching the play-offs isn’t enough to satisfy us – we’re all focused on trying to win the league.
We need to focus on bettering ourselves as a team unit – that’s more important than any personal accolades or targets.
Like anyone else who plays football, I want the chance to play at the highest level, and it’s something I aim to do – and getting Berwick Rangers up to League 1 would be a great start in achieving that.
LN: Berwick’s first game of the coming Ladbrokes League 2 campaign is a trip to Gayfield to face Arbroath. They’re a club you have a great scoring record against – are you looking forward to getting out there on opening day?
DL: Yeah, I can’t wait! Arbroath is an away trip I always enjoy, so hopefully I can go there and can hit the ground running with a goal or two.
The first game against Clyde is another date I always look out for when the fixtures come out. It’s always a really tight competitive game against them, with some really good football played.
However, I prepare for every game in the same way and go out with the same mentality in each match. I’m just really enjoying my football at the moment, which is the best way to go into every fixture.
LN: Finally, we’ve got a new club in the Ladbrokes SPFL this season – Edinburgh City. Are you excited about facing them – especially with the chance to return to your home city?
DL: I certainly am – and I like the promotion system into the SPFL right now. I don’t think you can finish bottom every season like East Stirling have, and then stay in the league without the best sides in the Highland and Lowland leagues having the chance to replace them.
I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from Edinburgh City, so I’m sure they’ll give a good account of themselves in the professional leagues. It’ll be great for their fans and it’s the chance for us to face new opposition.
Berwick Rangers can be backed at 10/1 to win next season’s Ladbrokes League 2 title, while it’s 12/5 they upset the odds with a win over League 1 outfit Albion Rovers in tomorrow night’s Scottish League Cup tie – to prove they’re ready for the step up.
We’ve also been speaking to the Wee Rovers’ new signing Ryan Wallace, and you can read the midfield maestro’s thoughts here, as he begins his first season at Cliftonhill.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing