What we said: There is no shame in mid-table among present company and another year or so for their teenagers to develop might eventually bring something special. Whether Pressley himself is the correct manager to oversee the rest of the project, however, remains to be seen. C
Falkirk managed to turn their season around, finishing third in the league when for some time it seemed as though they were struggling to stay away from the relegation battle among the part-time clubs.
The Bairns were in eighth place as far as mid-November after drawing many games and winning only twice a third of the way into the season. Steven Pressley toyed with his team’s tactics to such an extent that the midfield were either often too adventurous, leaving dangerous amounts of space between their defence, or ultra-conservative with the the whole team sitting deep in an effort to avoid conceding. There was rarely a balance between the two.
As the season progressed, Falkirk’s results improved. The upturn in form was heavily punctuated by winless streaks, but when they won they kept on winning. On two occasions, the Bairns pulled off four-match winning sequences while another run saw four wins in five. A refreshing but eventually sapping performance against Hibs in the Scottish Cup semi-final (Gary Holt’s first match in charge of the club) effectively ended the season, with the subsequent league matches affected by experimentation and fatigue.
All of that is typical in such a young squad. Even if third place is arguably artificial after Dunfermline Athletic’s administration, they were certainly deserved their place among the top four or five teams in the division when playing well.
Next season promises so much. A new manager and another year’s experience for the youngsters could prove to be a part of a successful recipe. If the promotion play-off system is introduced, if Lyle Taylor can be kept at the club, and if midfield prodigies Jay Fulton and Craig Sibbald can continue their precocious development, why shouldn’t Falkirk fans aim for the SPL? JAM
What we said: Cowdenbeath should just have enough about them to stay up this season, particularly with teams like Airdrie and Dumbarton in the division. The side have changed divisions seven times in the past eight seasons, and Cameron must address his side’s deficiencies to avoid making it eight in nine. C-
At one stage, the outlook was bleak for Cowdenbeath. It is rare that teams survive in the First Division after embarking on a 16-game winless sequence, but this was no ordinary First Division campaign. In the end, Cowden were spared by Airdrie United’s wretchedness and Dunfermline Athletic’s points deduction rather than through their own pluck. Under normal circumstances, it is speculative as to whether or not they would have consolidated their league status.
Not many gave Colin Cameron’s team a hope of staying up without the aid of the play-offs, particularly after the wretched run which stretched from September until the start of February. They had an unfortunate habit of capitulating during the second half of matches – they led at half-time on 13 separate occasions but only went onto win six and of the 12 times they were tied at the interval, they went on to prevail only once. Regardless, the manager and his players still deserve credit for what they achieved. It should be noted that their total of 36 points would have been enough for them to survive the past three First Division seasons.
While Cameron’s summer recruitments were hit and miss at best, he did enjoy great success with the calibre of his loan signings. Rangers’ Kane Hemmings scored four goals, including one in each of the the vital victories against Dunfermline and Falkirk in February. Sam Stanton shone after joining from Hibernian, while Liam Caddis played with distinction during his short spell on loan from St Johnstone.
The best signing, however, was Motherwell’s Craig Moore, a forward who scored a series of key goals after arriving at the end of January. His total of seven doesn’t quite tell the whole story, as his first two strikes in senior football came during the abandoned game against Partick Thistle and were duly wiped from the records. Without his goals, it is likely that Cowdenbeath – and not Dunfermline – would have finished in ninth.
For the first time since 2007, Cowdenbeath are preparing for a second consecutive season in the same division. With two other part-time teams in the league again next term – and if Cameron can bring in the right players – they should be quietly confident of extending their stay even further. SM
What we said: Livi find themselves where they are then, too good to worry about relegation, but without enough quality in depth to contend with promotion this season. If this team can be kept together though, there is rich promise ahead. C
So, Livingston finish in fourth place, a point behind third. This can certainly be looked upon as a good thing. In their two seasons since returning to Scotland’s second tier, Livi have finished fifth and fourth – a clear, if marginal, improvement. This year, having won only two more games than they have lost, one wonders if they could have gone on to do more with a little bit more stability at management level.
By the end of the season, Livingston were on their third management team. This would have been a surprise to most by judging the club’s strategy this time last year when there was a quiet excitement about the potential that a John Hughes/John Collins partnership would bring. As the new season began, it was obvious that Hughes’s idealistic short-passing approach was proving to be as much of a hindrance as it was a delight to witness when it worked. Still, with a couple of seasons’ conditioning under the duo’s coaching, it would have been fascinating to witness the development of the first team.
As it happened, Hughes left for Hartlepool (and has since been sacked), which left his assistant Gareth Evans to take charge. Evans immediately oversaw a period of five wins and only two losses from nine league matches, helping Livi climb to third place, with the club never dropping below fourth after mid-January.
Two thirds into the campaign, 12 points off the top but with a game in hand, there was the merest glimpse of a title challenge. But Livi failed to beat Greenock Morton and Partick Thistle over the course of the season (five losses; three draws), which ultimately afforded the top two the platform to contest the title between themselves. By the end of March, Evans had left and was replaced, once again from within, by Richie Burke. The club would collect only two wins from the final quarter of the season.
With the possible prospect of promotion play-offs to and a more generous financial distribution model from the top flight being introduced next season, the club will undoubtedly be keen to consolidate their existing top-half status. However, this cannot be guaranteed at this point because of the certain transformation to the first XI.
At the time of writing, the club had already announced nine departures, seven of whom were in the club’s 11 most picked players over the league season. Supporters will have to get used to life without household names such as Iain Russell and Liam Fox, but with former Hearts forward Calum Elliot and veteran defender Simon Mensing already signed for next season, and what is likely a further concentration of youth development through to the first team, next term will be worth watching. JAM
Hamilton Academical (5th)
What we said: It has taken a while, but Hamilton’s young side are showing signs they have gelled, while the loan signings and the long-term recruitment of Jonathan Page have steadied the ship. All signs suggest that Hamilton have just enough to stay out of genuine trouble this season. C
If managerial stability is one of the keys to footballing success, then one would have imagined that Hamilton Academical were in an ideal position this season. Billy Reid had been at the Accies for eight years and was Scotland’s longest serving manager, but rather than taking the club forward in the first two thirds of the year, the team seemed to decline under his stewardship.
Only six points were garnered from their first ten matches and while a mini-revival saw them win five of their next eight, a second slump found them sitting in eighth place at the end of March, just three points above Cowdenbeath. It wasn’t just the defeats that were infuriating supporters – the way in which they were succumbing, with Reid steadfastly refusing to alter his one-up-top philosophy, was infinitely vexing. There seemed to be a sense of relief when he announced his resignation at the beginning of April.
It might seem harsh given Reid’s many achievements during his tenure, but the level of performance since his departure have lent some vindication to those who believed he could take the Accies no further. In the seven games, caretaker manager Alex Neil has won five and drawn one. Indeed, had they held on to their lead against Cowdenbeath on the final day of the season, they would have finished in third.
Neil was happy to supplement Stevie May with a strike partner, a move which saw Hamilton score 16 times under his charge, an average of almost 2.3 per game. Compared to Reid’s tenure when they only averaged 1.2 goals per game, the tactical alteration has paid dividends.
Their stand out player was obviously May, and a cursory glance at his scoring record indicates just how heavily the Lanarkshire outfit relied on him. He scored 48% of Hamilton’s league goals this season and ended the campaign with 26 (surely dismissing opinions he is often profligate). Although the club are keen to see May return, he will likely feature for parent club St Johnstone next term.
A fifth place finish was higher than most had predicted for Hamilton. While the final part of the campaign was rewarding for fans, it also led many to wonder just what they could have achieved had they shown more adventure from the beginning. With Neil indicating he might prefer to remain solely a player next season, there are two issues to address: who replaces Billy Reid, and perhaps more importantly, who replaces Stevie May? SM