Raith Rovers (6th)
What we said: Frustratingly, Raith Rovers are only a handful of players away from becoming a very good side. It is unfortunate that, in a league where only the winners are rewarded, there is little point in freeing up the purse strings to bring in reinforcements in the meantime. C+
Although Raith Rovers changed their manager, things still look wearyingly familiar on the park. The Starks Park club were as stubborn at the back as they were under John McGlynn, conceding just 48 goals (a total only bettered by Partick Thistle, Greenock Morton and Hamilton Academical), but their goals for column looked far less impressive. They scored a paltry 45, the second fewest in the league and only four more than an extremely poor Airdrie United side; it was a dull year for their increasingly apathetic support.
Under Grant Murray, Rovers’ cup performances were in stark contrast with 26 goals scored across ten ties. Nevertheless, four and five goal hauls against titans such as Wick Academy, Montrose and Berwick Rangers failed to paper over the cracks of a deep-rooted goal-scoring problem which has dogged the club for several years. It would be incredibly harsh to fault Brian Graham – his 18 league strikes were the main reason the club kept their head above water – but only seven other Rovers players managed to find the net this season (and three of those only managed a solitary league goal each).
Part of the problem comes from a midfield which (Grant Anderson aside) was desperately short of creativity. Having inherited similar problems from his predecessor, it is frustrating Murray that has failed to address these deficiencies. Another source of anxiety came from their desperate performances against the league’s lesser clubs – despite losing only once to Partick Thistle and taking eight and four points from Falkirk and Greenock Morton respectively, they could only take three points from the struggling Cowdenbeath.
On the whole, Murray’s signings have generally played well. Simon Mensing (who has joined Livingston) excelled in defence; Stuart Anderson showed intelligence in possession from the middle of the park; Joe Cardle impressed in spells; and former Celtic striker Greig Spence contributed 11 goals. It suggests the manager is adept at sourcing and scouting good players – such a quality will be required once again as finishes his first full season as manager. SM
Dunfermline Athletic (9th)
What we said: Dunfermline might be going through a difficult time off the park, but on it they should still be expecting to challenge for the title come May. B
There seems something darkly ironic that such a memorable season is one that Dunfermline Athletic fans would probably want to instantly forget. It all began so brightly with nine wins from their first 13 league games, which suggested the club would involve themselves in a three-way title fight. Even as recently as January, the Pars were sitting at the top of the league after a 1-0 victory over Dumbarton took them above both Greenock Morton and Partick Thistle.
Even by this point it was apparent that all was not well behind the scenes at East End Park, with wages either late or deferred from October onwards. While the various sound-bites claimed the off-field uncertainty would not impact on performances, the results between December and the end of the season suggested otherwise.
After their excellent opening to the season, Dunfermline would win only five of their next 23 league games, a catastrophic sequence which, combined with their points deduction in April, ensured the club would eventually finish in ninth place. They were relegated after surrendering to Alloa Athletic in the play-off final. It would be churlish to say the squad stopped playing to their maximum potential when their financial troubles arose but with a looming threat of unemployment, it was perhaps difficult to imagine the players putting their bodies on the line with the same intensity – trying to find a new club is hard enough without being hampered by injury.
At first glance, the rump of the squad who remained, after administrators released several senior players at the end of March, seemed good enough to stay up. However, such was their callowness and inexperience that a struggle was always more likely. The average age of the starting XI who faced Alloa on Sunday was just over 21, a figure significantly raised by 33-year-old centre-back John Potter. Slowly integrating young players is the best way to introduce them to first team football; instead, Dunfermline were forced to play them all at once in an all-or-nothing fight against relegation.
Of their young players, full-backs Alex Whittle and Ross Millen have shown potential, with the latter scoring the penalty which sent the play-off tie against Forfar Athletic into extra time – quite a responsibility for an 18-year-old. But by the end of the season, the squad already looked exhausted. The concession of a last minute goal against Thistle denied them salvation, as did the home defeat to already-relegated Airdrie United. Their demotion was an unhappy end to a difficult season.
Their fans have shown outstanding support over the year. Dunfermline’s young squad will need the same solidarity next season as they look towards a Second Division campaign, which will be more difficult given Rangers’s addition. Ultimately, if Dunfermline fans still have a club to follow next season, then this in itself is a great success. SM
Airdrie United (10th)
What we said: It seems harsh to grade Airdrie so low after they were granted a belated promotion during the summer. Like Dundee and Stranraer have discovered, it is almost impossible to succeed in a league when you were preparing for life in the tier below. However, if any club are capable of adapting to such trying circumstances, then it is the Diamonds. E
The season has been a record breaking for Airdrie United, but not in a good sense. The club’s final tally of 22 points and the concession of 89 goals – an average of 2.47 per game – was the poorest since their formation in 2002. In the last six months of the season, they defeated Dunfermline Athletic twice but in between their two East End Park triumphs, there was an interminable 15 game sequence without a win – a dismal run of form which effectively sealed their relegation long before May.
At the end of 2011-12, some begrudged Airdrie’s elevation to the First Division and suggested that Arbroath, by virtue of their third place finish, merited promotion ahead of the defeated play-off finalists. Whether or not their ascension was deserved, the Diamonds were completely ill-equipped to deal with the rigours of Division One – while the youngsters and academy graduates can perhaps be excused for the poverty of the team’s performances this season, their experienced squad members have badly faltered. Airdrie required consistently strong performances from David Lilley, Kenny Arthur, Paul Di Giacomo and Sean Lynch but either through injury or poor form, not one of their senior players pulled their weight.
It’s difficult to find positive from such a poor season. Chris O’Neil played well on a reasonably consistent basis, with the 17-year-old full-back deserving his Young Player of the Year award. There were also encouraging performances from youngsters Liam Watt, Ricki Lamie and Gregor Buchanan, something which suggests that manager Jimmy Boyle might actually be more suited to his secondary role at the club – head of youth development – than first team manager. It is difficult not to look at Dumbarton and Stranraer and wonder if a change in coach might have salvaged something from the campaign.
Regardless, Boyle has began reshaping his squad for next year and has astutely added Lewis Coult and Jim Lister already. He will need to add more experience to compete in a Second Division which will feature, amongst others, Rangers, Dunfermline Atletic, Brechin City, Forfar Athletic, Arbroath and Ayr United. However the forthcoming season plays out, it surely has to be an improvement on the calamitous 2012-13. SM