Albion Rovers (10th)
What we said: With limited funds available, Lumsden must use his contacts to acquire personnel on loan in a bid to reverse Albion Rovers’ current form. There is a genuine danger that the side could become cut adrift in tenth place by the end of the month. D
As was eventually proven, this was a season too far for Albion Rovers. With a reduced playing budget and a poorer pool of players available, it would have been an extraordinary achievement had the club matched last season’s ninth place finish. Instead they were quietly relegated at the end of April.
A reasonably positive opening period saw the Vers gamely sitting in sixth place by mid-October, but the bright start soon gave way to a wretched sequence of results. After the outstanding 4-0 victory over Arbroath, they would pick up just five points from their following nine matches, with their final win of 2012 coming against Ayr United on Boxing Day.
Rovers then embarked on a dreadful run of nine consecutive defeats, a series which saw them sink to the foot of the table, 12 points adrift of Stranraer in ninth. A superb 4-3 victory over Stenhousemuir at Cliftonhill at the beginning of March ended the sequence, but it was followed by the result which defined their season. Playing away to Stranraer, David Crawford and Pat Walker saw gave the team a two-goal lead within half an hour but an appalling second half collapse saw them eventually succumb 2-3. The nature of the loss knocked the stuffing out of their survival battle. They would go on to collect seven more points, but their fortune had already been determined.
It was their habit of shooting themselves in the foot, reloading, and then firing again which consistently undid them. On six occasions, Rovers conceded crucial goals on or after 89 minutes, half of them from penalty kicks. They needlessly threw away six points in the process.
On the whole, however, it was the lack of quality throughout the side which saw them relegated. Gary Phillips and Barry Russell generally played well while winger David Crawford was occasionally fabulous, but this team simply lacked the ability to challenge in such a competitive league. An Albion Rovers side should never be anything less than determined and hardworking, but during their dire 1-5 defeat to Alloa Athletic – the ninth defeat of their embarrassing run – it looked as though they had just given up.
It is debatable whether or not the team would have benefitted from replacing manager Todd Lumsden – who recently stood down – midway through the campaign, but few coaches could have coaxed a turnaround from such a limited group of players. For a club perennially struggling to make ends meet, their relegation comes at the most inopportune time. Not only will they miss out on playing Rangers next year, they will also be denied a Monklands derby with Airdrie United. It might be some time before we see Albion Rovers in the third tier again, although their recent transfer activity has looked reasonably promising. CGT
Ayr United (7th)
What we said: Two-thousand and twelve was Ayr United’s annus horribilis […] Unless the squad is significantly improved over January, a mid-table finish is the only realistic conclusion to Ayr’s season. E
There is only word that sums Ayr United’s season: unacceptable. To conclude the campaign 51 points behind Queen of the South – and 13 outside the promotion play-offs – was an unmitigated disaster for a team expected to challenge for the title. Mark Roberts, in his first season as manager, agreed and appeared at a loss as to why his side had performed so poorly. “Whether it was down to mistakes made by myself, I don’t know,” he said. “But I think the players have to take responsibility for their inconsistency.”
Indeed, inconsistency was a key factor in Ayr’s lowly finish. Nine of their 12 league wins were followed by defeat, and only at the end of September was the club able to record back-to-back victories (an unbeaten run of three games, matched just once elsewhere). Another failing was the number of times they carelessly tossed away points – on ten occasions, they ceded 26 points from winning positions, the worst record in the division.
While a promising run of pre-season results brought hope of attractive, attacking football, it was rarely demonstrated in competitive fixtures and the solitary point collected from their first five matches saw Roberts scrabbling for a quick fix. He bemoaned the lack of aggression within his side and admitted he recruited the wrong type of player, signing too many of his friends. The experienced Austin McCann, Marc Twaddle and Ryan McStay – all former team-mates of the manager – largely disappointed. A cash windfall in January allowed the club to recruit Graeme Smith, Neil McGregor, Chris Smith, Scott McLaughlin and Liam Buchanan, all decent performers at Second Division level, but they failed to bring about any improvement.
It is difficult to pinpoint any positives from the season. The emergence of 18-year-old midfielder Robbie Crawford from the club’s vaunted youth academy was certainly encouraging, but the fact he was the team’s outstanding player has underlined the failure of so many senior squad members to make an impact.
The 2012-13 campaign has raised serious questions as to whether or not Mark Roberts is suitably equipped for management, and a cynic might suggest he is only still in employment by virtue of a two-year contract signed last summer. The move was a risk by chairman Lachlan Cameron that, in hindsight, appears to have been poorly conceived. Cameron’s resolve could be seriously tested if Ayr make a similarly dire start next term. AG
East Fife (9th)
What we said: If Brown can sharpen his squad’s attacking prowess during the transfer window, there is a very decent chance he can lead his side into the play-off places. C
Everyone connected with East Fife should be ashamed with the manner in which the season has played out. Despite a rousing performance in the play-offs, beating Berwick Rangers and then Peterhead to consolidate their Second Division status, the campaign as a whole has been dreadful.
A team of East Fife’s quality should never have been in such an endangered position. Take a glance through their squad: Calum Antell, Hibernian’s on-loan goalkeeper, is generally considered to be a sound prospect; Bobby Barr is regarded as one of the division’s more talented footballers; Paul McManus is a capable Second Division forward; and Gareth Wardlaw won the championship in 2010-11 with Cowdenbeath. This group of players were never likely to frighten Queen of the South, but nor were they strong candidates for relegation. It is an understatement of grand proportions but this East Fife team were acutely less than the sum of their parts.
Who is to blame for such a dismal campaign? Is it the unfortunate Gordon Durie, the man who assembled the squad last summer? Is it Billy Brown, the successor who oversaw a 14-game winless run? Is it the players themselves, a fractious, fickle lot? Or, as Brown might have you believe, is it the supporters, whose negativity drained the confidence from the team?
The players must shoulder a large degree of responsibility – there are too many who have coasted through the season – but Brown is equally as culpable. Out of his depth as a manager and too arrogant to understand his role in the club’s predicament, his frustration climaxed in a spectacular rant after April’s defeat to Stenhousemuir, lashing out at both players and supporters. In private, Brown has admitted he made a mistake in taking charge of East Fife and with the season having finished, he is considering his position.
East Fife are a fine club who, until this season, have competed well within the division since their promotion in 2006-07. But the level of performance this year has been generally awful. A purge of both players and management in the coming weeks might be best for all parties. CGT