Annan Athletic (7th)
What we said: After collecting ten points from a possible 24, it feels as though the club have yet to shake off the hangover from the disappointing conclusion to last season’s campaign. C
For some, the resignation of Harry Cairney on 20 December had come six months too late. The failure of the 2011-12 season had counted against him, with a pocket of supporters still bitter about the manner in which it ended – despite having spent the majority of the season in the play-off positions, a spectacular collapse saw them conclude the campaign in sixth place. Cairney should have moved on in the summer but soldiered on, and oversaw a series of mixed results.
The manager resigned after citing the difficulties in balancing his personal and professional commitments, but his departure – through his own free will or not – had seemed inevitable. In the weeks leading up to his departure, Cairney’s side had lost five consecutive matches; during the 1-3 home defeat to Clyde in particular, they had looked like a disorganised rabble.
Rowan Alexander has been mooted as a potential successor, and local radio had recently announced that the club have received 18 applications for the post. In the meantime, Euan Brydson, Cairney’s assistant, has taken temporary charge and has overseen a very decent run of results. Annan have won seven points from a possible 12, losing only to Rangers. The permanent recruitment of the talented David Hopkirk has been central to their recent performances, adding flair and creativity to the side, and Scott Chaplain, the club’s top scorer this season, has continued to perform with diligence in the midfield
There is much to work on for Cairney’s replacement. The club are yet to fully take advantage of their spacious artificial surface, and still resort to shelling long balls towards strikers Graeme Ramage and Kieran McGachie. Meanwhile, a porous defence must also be tightened – only East Stirlingshire and Stirling Albion have conceded more. With the correct appointment, Annan can pose a credible challenge for the play-off positions. Sitting on the fringes in seventh place, if the club are able to continue their resurgence then they should prove strong opposition for the remainder of the season. CGT
East Stirlingshire (9th)
What we said: That East Stirlingshire are not bottom of the table at this early stage is something of a surprise; the club were expected to spend the majority of the season propping up the entire football league, so to see them sitting in eighth place with a haul of nine points is a fine achievement. B-
Little has changed for East Stirlingshire since October’s mid-term report card: the club are still skirting around the bottom of the division in ninth place with little hope of improving on their position. Recent results have been distinctly poor and John Coughlin’s side have failed to win in their last eight matches – with Stirling Albion’s recent improvement, finishing the season in tenth is a distinct possibility.
Although the Shire supporters are fully behind their squad, Coughlin’s overly defensive approach has begun to jar. In recent matches against Stirling and Berwick, many feel that the team could have taken more from the match had it not been for their cautious style of play. Furthermore, when defending corners, Coughlin continues to station all 11 players inside the penalty box, inevitably resulting in a lack of out-ball when the set-piece is cleared upfield.
There are some positives surrounding the club: although the injured Nathan Shepherd has been sorely missed, the return of attacking midfielder Andy Stirling on a short-term basis has been welcomed. Raymond Buchanan has looked reasonably solid in central defence, while captain Kevin Turner’s determined performances have been warmly received by fans.
To avoid finishing a second consecutive season at the bottom of the SFL, Coughlin must learn to change his habits and slacken his defensive instincts. There are some capable players at his disposal – the manager needs to put more faith in them. CGT
Stirling Albion (10th)
What we said: The club are perhaps at their lowest ebb since the dismal 2002-03 campaign… if results do not improve over the next month, it seems unlikely that he will remain as manager going into Christmas. D
Stirling Albion have endured a horrendous season so far. Until their 6-3 victory over Berwick Rangers in mid-December, the Binos had collected a paltry four points from their previous 12 matches. While their defeat of Rangers remains the unqualified high point of their campaign (the 1-0 win is still the most remarkable result of 2012-13 SFL season), the club had a bizarre habit of capitulating after opening the scoring – on four occasions, they have contrived to throw away the match despite taking the lead.
And yet, recent results have been far more promising. Since player-manager Greig McDonald configured his charges into a traditional 4-4-2 formation, the Binos have collected seven points from their last five matches. Having dispensed with unorthodox 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 systems, the side have looked far more balanced and purposeful – although the club ultimately lost the weekend’s fixture with Queen’s Park, it was a rousing performance and one of their finest of the season.
The acquisition of former Falkirk striker Jordan White on a permanent contract has been McDonald’s most eye-catching signing of the transfer window. The forward, who had been on loan at the club since July, has scored seven goals in all competitions – there is a fine player concerned within him. After an indifferent start, Scott Davidson is beginning to perform strongly and has forged a decent understanding with White in attack. Mark Ferry, another player who has badly underachieved, has started to show his quality and his neat play is key in linking the midfield to the attack.
However, there are concerns over Albion’s defence – it is a source of perpetual irritance. Despite his winning goal in the match against Rangers, Brian Allison has performed poorly while his partner Gary Thom has become a frustrating presence – he becoming worryingly error-prone and has already collected two needless red cards this season. Goalkeepers Mark Peat and Sam Filler have also failed to impress. McDonald, meanwhile, continues to polarise opinion amongst support: some are infinitely vexed by the 30-year-old’s unnecessary tactical tics and believe a more experienced manager is required to guide the club away from the foot of the table; others are encouraged by recent improvements.
Things can only get better for Stirling Albion in 2013. Well, they can’t exactly get any worse, can they? CGT