IN many ways, the Third Division played out close to prediction: Rangers won the title by a considerable distance (despite shambling their way towards the trophy), while East Stirlingshire finished the season in tenth place.
The battle to finish in the play-off places, however, was far more chaotic. It has been commented on before, but the presence of Rangers spoiled what could have been a fascinating battle for the championship. With the destination of the title an inevitability, the teams who would have challenged had to make do with competing for second, third and fourth.
On the whole, the tussle among Peterhead, Queen’s Park, Berwick Rangers, Elgin City and Montrose was hugely interesting. The Blue Toon’s astonishing late surge up the table was one of the season’s highlights – before they embarked on their eight-game winning streak, they sat in fifth place, 14 points behind Queen’s Park in second place. By the end of the regular season they had overtaken the Glasgow club, only to falter in the play-off final. One can only imagine how thrilling the league could have been.
This article aims to look across the division and rate each side between A and F – the scores are based on a combination of pre-season expectations and their form over the course of the whole season.
What we said: Would a fourth place finish be good enough for Peterhead? The vagaries of the play-off system are such that it might be beneficial to finish fourth and face a theoretically easier semi-final, but as long as a play-off finish was obtained then it would almost certainly be good enough. C+
An implausibly perfect last quarter to the season ended in an anti-climax, but on the whole Peterhead have had a successful season.
For the first three quarters, the Blue Toon were a mixed bag. Three wins in four at the beginning of the year showed the potential Jim McInally had within his squad, but they only won in successive league fixtures once more until March. The quality was there, but the team seemed to be only too keen to sabotage its own promotion credentials with poor discipline – Scott Ross alone received three red cards during the first half of the season, all during matches in which his side lost.
Peterhead might have been expected to finish second at the beginning of the season, but by mid-March they were in fifth place after losing three consecutive matches, and in a position to be grateful just for a fourth-place finish. However, eight resounding wins in a row closed out the league campaign, making Peterhead the form team in the country as they looked to return to the Second Division.
Having Rory McAllister certainly helped. Although he only scored two goals in 17 matches from September through to January, he began and finished the season in some style. Netting 11 in his last seven league matches, he and Andy Rodgers (six goals from nine starts after joining on loan from Stenhousemuir) looked too strong together for most opponents, but despite only conceding three goals in the club’s last 12 competitive matches McInally’s side failed to score against East Fife in the double-legged play-off final and quietly missed out on promotion.
If the core of this squad is kept together for next season, and if Rodgers is allowed to return alongside McAllister, all money will surely be on Peterhead to win the Third Division championship next season. JAM
Queen’s Park (3rd)
What we said: It has been a distinctly mixed, yet ultimately satisfying season so far for Queen’s Park […] They should maintain their form to secure a play-off position come May. B
On the whole, Queen’s Park have enjoyed a thoroughly engaging season but it’s difficult not to feel a little disappointed with the manner in which it all fizzled out. Having spent a large part of the year behind Rangers as “the best of the rest”, a rotten series of results from the middle of March onwards saw the Spiders unfixed from second place by Peterhead. They would carry their poor form into the play-offs and meekly surrendered to Jim McInally’s side in the semi-final, losing by a 1-4 aggregate score-line.
It is a pity this team will not participate in the Second Division next season. Before their slump, Gardner Speirs’s team were the best footballing side in the division, utilising an attractive, attacking style of play. In David Anderson, the club boast one of the finest midfielders in the lower leagues, an outstanding passer of the ball and the team’s catalyst. Andy Robertson will surely develop into an excellent full-back at a full-time club, while both Lawrence Shankland and Aidan Connelly have bright futures ahead of them.
There have been a number of highlights throughout the season. Despite losing out 4-5 to Partick Thistle in the Challenge Cup (the match was one of the year’s most incredible results), their general play was commended; their 4-0 victory at Elgin City was an excellent performance; and their 3-2 win at Clyde was notable for a remarkable comeback from two goals down in which they scored three times in eight minutes to win.
There have been negative aspects to the season, however. Speirs’s insistence on operating with the traditional big lump up top has seen either Tony Quinn or Mick Keenan, both limited midfielders, deployed as a target man; the manager’s unwillingness to trust the callow Shankland – QP’s most natural goalscorer – has frustrated. There is also an increasing feeling that Speirs has taken the club as far as he can. This has been the fourth consecutive season where his team have failed to progress from the play-offs. Their attritional, uninspired showing against Petrerhead was a particular sore spot.
With a number of key personnel having already left the club, Speirs faces a difficult task in sourcing replacements of the same calibre in order to keep his team competitive next season. CGT
Berwick Rangers (4th)
What we said: If Ian Little is able to correct the club’s defensive tics and build on their attacking brand of play by freshening the squad, a third or fourth place finish could become a realistic possibility. C
Berwick Rangers’ uneven campaign can ultimately be regarded as a successful one. Given the relative quality of the league, a fourth place finish was perhaps beyond their expectations.
It would have been difficult to imagine the club would contest a play-off semi-final earlier in the year. Berwick had stuttered their way through the season with impressive displays (a 1-1 draw with Rangers) tempered by poor defeats to Elgin City, Annan Athletic and Montrose. Their inconsistency was as frustrating as it was puzzling.
Such was their level of performance, Ian Little’s team sat in eighth place, two points from the foot of the table after their 1-3 defeat to Rangers in February. However, the unpredictable and competitive nature of the division saw them embark on an unbeaten run of six matches (which included five victories) and clamber into third. Their form would tail off – Berwick collected six points from their final seven games – and continue into the play-off semi-final against East Fife. To lose out courtesy of Liam Gormley’s 119th minute goal was particularly cruel.
A number of players impressed over the course of the season: Dougie Brydon excelled in central defence; Lee Currie was one of the league’s classiest midfielders; striker Darren Lavery played consistently well; and the elusive Dylan Easton, who will join St Johnstone in the summer, frequently thrilled in attack.
Since taking charge midway through 2011-12, Little has steadily improved Berwick Rangers. With the correct recruitment over the summer – and a solution to their mixed form – they could go one step further next term. CGT