The League 2 Team of the Year 2014-15

Marvin Andrews has many qualities but there cannot be many onlookers who believe he merits a place within the PFA League 2 Team of the Year. When the team was released last week it was met with incredulity but, after all, it’s selected by the players and they know their peers better than anyone else. Who are we to argue?

The Tell Him He’s Pelé League 2 Team of the Year 2014-15 should be seen as a companion piece of sorts. Our picks, naturally, are made up from the division’s top three sides with an assortment of waifs and strays from elsewhere to make up the numbers – the cream always rises to the top, doesn’t it?

Albion Rovers might have won the league but their achievements were based on a collective solidity rather than any genuine outstanding talent. Some might feel they’re a little under-represented here; if that is the case, so be it. Queen’s Park’s right flank is included while Arbroath, despite their slump over the second half of the season, boast three players. Elsewhere, there is a curious surprise for our manager of the year. And just to be deliberately contrary, we chose not to select Marvin Andrews.

Could this team play together? Absolutely. Every one of them can look back on the campaign with pride.

 

League 2 2014-15

 

Goalkeeper: ALAN MARTIN (Clyde)

The contest for the League 2 Goalkeeper of the Year was a close-run thing. There are a number of viable candidates – how about Neil Parry, Albion Rovers’ championship-winning ‘keeper? The big stopper has improved on last year’s performances and, along with a settled backline, was central to the Vers’ successful season. Or what about Queen’s Park’s Wullie Muir? The diminutive presence, completing his first senior campaign after joining from Shotts Bon Accord, has impressed with his ability to frequently pull off jaw-dropping saves.

But as good as both Parry and Muir have been, the division’s best goalie this term has been Alan Martin of Clyde. The former Scotland U-21 cap might look like a big galoot with a bad haircut but he has been regularly excellent, particularly over the second half of the season – since January, his side have conceded the fewest goals (18) and he has kept seven clean sheets in his final 14 matches. It sometimes seems hard to believe that a player with his ability is featuring in the basement tier.

When Martin joined the Bully Wee in September, they probably didn’t even need him – in Jamie Barclay, the club boasted a very decent goalkeeper already – but Barry Ferguson seemed unconvinced and immediately installed him as his number 1. It was the manager’s finest transfer of the season – Martin’s handling is clean, his communication and command of his area is sound and his distribution, both with his hands and his feet, is solid.

He will probably have aspirations above League 2 but if Clyde can secure the goalkeeper for another season, it would be a remarkable signing.

 

Right-back: SHAUN ROONEY (Queen’s Park)

Let us get the unfair comparison out of the way first: Shaun Rooney isn’t like Andy Robertson. Both players are full-backs who became a fixture in the Queen’s Park first team at an early age; both have no small amount of athleticism; and both have made quite a positive impact on the division and on the Spiders’ supporters in their debut seasons. Who knows where Rooney’s career will take him – and he will doubtless leave Queen’s Park sooner rather than later based on this year’s performances – but realistic expectations need to be placed on a player with a lot of potential but plenty to learn.

Rooney is one of the few academy graduates to become such a prominent figure in Gus MacPherson’s team, but when watching him it is plain to see why the manager has given the player so much game time. Rooney is a tall, rangy player who at 6ft 3in can out-pace most in the league when given the opportunity to stretch his legs. His height has been an advantage when defending the far post as well as attacking set-pieces in the air and he has scored with a couple of headers. Yet his biggest strength is his ability to charge down the pitch with the ball at his feet and quickly turn defence into attack.

Typically, Rooney’s overlapping from right-back has allowed Paul Woods to come in from the touchline to interact with the other midfielders and the pair have given QP different angles to attack from in the process. Rooney’s pace and endurance down the flank is such that he can be left alone to be trusted to win his duels and penetrate on the wing. His running technique and the sheer size of his frame make him look less graceful than another full-back who might not have anywhere near his reach, and he doesn’t always have the elegance needed by smaller defenders to make up for someone of Rooney’s robustness, but don’t be deceived by his touch.

In the last few matches in the league campaign, including the win at home to Annan Athletic, McPherson used Rooney on the right of midfield and the close control with his right foot was as good as any natural midfielder when he needed to protect the ball. Rooney’s goal from the edge of the box in that match – allowing the pass from the left to roll across his body to shape a side-footed finish – hints at what more can come from Rooney starting higher up the pitch.

Nevertheless, the long-term impression is that he will be better suited to have the length of the pitch to accelerate into. Judging on the season as a whole, Rooney will some day be a very good right-back for a full-time club.

 

Centre-backs: MICK and ROSS DUNLOP (Albion Rovers)

Maybe it’s their unique fraternal understanding; maybe it’s because they’re just very good players, but Mick and Ross Dunlop have both experienced stellar campaigns with Albion Rovers. The Vers boast the league’s best defensive record, keeping clean sheets in over a third of their games, and the Dunlop brothers – who only missed a handful of matches between them – were crucial to their miserliness.

Mick, the elder of the two and hardened after almost 15 years in the lower leagues, captains the side and plays with a cool authority. Rarely flustered, he is equally adept at putting his head through long punts as he is breaking up play across the deck. Ross, all shoulders and right angles, is the more enthusiastic of the two and happily does his master’s bidding. Their complementary attributes have fostered the perfect partnership for this level. It is difficult to pick out a key moment for the two – they’ve been excellent throughout (maybe the decisive win at Clyde, notable by Mick’s absence, highlighted his importance to the team).

“They do everything, they go everywhere together… They go to the toilet, they go for a pee together!” laughed Albion Rovers manager Darren Young on The Pelé Podcast a fortnight ago. The team’s success this year has been built on solid foundations; the Dunlop brothers are its bedrock.

 

Left-back: DARRYL McHARDY (Elgin City)

It should be said that there weren’t many stand-outs in the division this season in the left-back position. Kyle Turnbull was considered for the consistency he has shown on the left of Albion Rovers back four across the season, and Ross Drummond at Berwick Rangers has caught the eye with some of his displays, but the decision was made for Elgin City’s Darryl McHardy for the continuing improvement in his game over the course of the year.

McHardy is essentially a converted defender after having played up front in the youth team. Ross Jack gave McHardy his debut and a few appearances from the bench to play up front a couple of seasons ago, before some off-field adversity hindered his progress. But it wasn’t until this season when Barry Wilson gave the player a start in the team at left-back. In a disastrous first half of the campaign without a consistent run in the team, let alone a regular partnership in defence to strike a rapport with, McHardy endured a difficult start to his career with Elgin languishing at the bottom.

McHardy’s regular run in the team happily coincided with Jim Weir becoming manager and winning a string of matches from December onwards. One of the first things that Weir did was to lay down a consistent selection in defence, with Ally Gilchrist arriving on loan from St Johnstone – the combined age of McHardy and Gilchrist is only slightly greater than Marvin Andrews’ advancing years, but simply the amount of time that they played together on the pitch allowed an understanding to congeal.  All of a sudden, Elgin were conceding fewer goals than they were scoring.

McHardy has been technically quite a tidy full-back, who has not been shy in clearing his lines but who can also play intricate football in tight spaces along with Archie MacPhee ahead of him. He also has a solid build that ensures that he isn’t physically bullied by anyone else, while his seven league goals prove that he still has the capability to win games going forward that he had when going through the youth teams. McHardy recently scored a hat-trick in the 4-5 loss to Annan Athletic and the composure he showed to curl in his third with his right foot from the edge of the box shows that he can be a clinical player when further up the pitch.

With his first full season in the first team behind him, McHardy can continue to improve further and that can only be a good thing for Jim Weir and his club.

 

Right midfield: PAUL WOODS (Queen’s Park)

Unheralded at the beginning of the year, Paul Woods has gone on to enjoy a fantastic debut season with Queen’s Park and is surely one of the most exciting players in the division. A dynamic, whip-smart presence on the right of the Spiders’ midfield, Woods has been a perpetual source of goals and creativity – his team would not have been as successful without him.

Plucked from Petershill, Woods quickly rose to prominence with a quickfire double in a 2-1 win over Elgin City in September. The 28-year-old netted nine times over the course of the season – he finished the campaign as the club’s top scorer – and the timing of the goals were as important as the total. Seven of his strikes either opened the scoring or won points for his side.

Woods’s level of performance probably peaked around the same time Chris Duggan joined the club on loan from Partick Thistle. Cutting infield from the right, Woods linked supremely well with the big forward and it was a joy to watch the pair of them play off one another – Duggan assisted with all of Woods’s goals in this period. The player has also forged a strong understand with Shaun Rooney; it is no surprise to see Queen’s Park’s right-hand side represented in the Team of the Year.

Woods adapted well to the demands of senior football – could he assimilate as quickly in the third tier should the opportunity present itself?

 

Central midfield: DAVID GREENHILL (East Stirlingshire)

East Stirlingshire had such a fluctuating season that it was impossible to predict where they would finish in the league, even as the campaign drew to a close. For so long they looked like contenders for the pyramid play-off position, flirting anywhere between eighth and last place in the division for the first half of the campaign, but some terrific form between February and April saw them climb to fifth and very close to penetrating the top four. They eventually fell away to finish in ninth – comfortably ahead of Montrose – but all the while remained competitive in most of their matches, even when they weren’t winning.

Central midfield in the Team of the Year tends to be a straightforward choice – Lee Currie and another – but each of the two featured here deserve their place in the selection on their own merits. Greenhill has been one of the most consistently effective players in the league this year, even when his team haven’t been producing positive results. His eye for a pass and the amount of yards in the pitch that he covers (with his equaliser against East Fife a highlight of the speed that he moves with the ball) would make him a valuable asset to any team in the division. His passing from deep can open up angles for others to play the final ball, but he is just as proficient in playing in David McKenna and Kevin Nisbet higher up the pitch, with the latter particularly enjoying a fruitful loan spell on the whole from the service he received from Greenhill.

The Shire will want to improve considerably on their ninth-placed finish next season, but they will do well to make Greenhill a fulcrum of the midfield for the next couple of years if they are serious about doing so.

 

Central midfield: MARK WHATLEY (Arbroath)

Before Paul Sheerin took him to Arbroath from Spartans, observers of the East of Scotland and Lowland Leagues apparently found it hard to believe that no senior club had shown a serious interest in Mark Whatley before. Twelve months on and the 24-year-old has emerged as the division’s finest midfielder, a one-man cyclone that brings tremendous industry to the party. Even while Arbroath slumped, Whatley’s standard’s never dipped below excellent.

Whatley is hard working, diligent in possession, good at shifting the ball over short distances, combative in the tackle, and positionally astute (he has played all across the midfield and even chipped in at left- and right-back on occasion) – basically everything a team requires from their central midfielder. Goals are not necessarily his strong point – he has one for the season – but who cares when everything else is so good?

What Whatley does next will be interesting. The player spent a week in February on trial with Aberdeen and even if he doesn’t make the move to the Premiership, full-time clubs at the level below should be interested. Few at Gayfield would begrudge him such a move.

 

Left wing: BOBBY LINN (Arbroath)

The PFA Player of the Year for League 2 was the first name picked in this particular team. Linn has had a tremendous season in this division, even when his team’s form went from bad to worse in 2015.

Linn is the type of player who can light up a match within a matter of seconds. His confidence and determination to run at players with the ball at his feet, with skill and pace, make him an exceedingly difficult player to defend against. Double-marking him only gets you so far, firstly due to the space that it affords the team elsewhere but secondly because his movement, even without possession, is so effective that it can make his markers seem like spare parts.

Linn scored 13 goals in the league this year, including a hat-trick against Clyde in March to give his team their first win in ten matches in all competitions. For a winger to net so many isn’t unheard of, but Linn gives so much more than his goals. His ability to take on full-backs on the outside and his delivery from the byline is as good as anyone in the division. He is at his most enthralling, however, when he drives through the centre of the pitch, directly at the heart of opposition defences – so reminiscent of Peter Pawlett’s rise at Aberdeen last season – which makes space for others. Simon Murray benefited from that more than most.

Arbroath at their best are breathtaking to watch on the counter attack and, pound for pound, there are few players as rousing to watch as Linn in the SPFL.

 

Striker: SIMON MURRAY (Arbroath)

Simon Murray’s season can be divided into two very distinct, very different halves: the first is the unalloyed success that yielded 16 goals before the New Year and earned him an unexpected move into full-time football with Dundee United; and the second is the subdued, difficult period that saw him dropped to the bench while his team tumbled from the top of the table. Despite these wild contrasts, the Arbroath striker’s average form over the piece still merits his inclusion within this side.

Signed from Dundee Violet, Murray took a couple of weeks to settle himself before making his mark in League 2. His first goal of the campaign, a late strike in August’s 3-1 win over Montrose (all the sweeter given that the Mo discarded him as a teenager) was the first in a red-hot streak. Goals against Elgin City, Clyde and East Stirlingshire followed as the Lichties obliterated everything in their path. After scoring against Montrose at the start of January, Murray had scored nine goals in his last seven games.

With the hulking Paul McManus doing all his heavy lifting, Murray’s fed off his partner’s assorted flicks and knockdowns, using his pace and intelligent movement to find unexplored nooks and crannies inside the opposition penalty area. His game outside of the 18-yard box was ordinary, but inside it he was deadly: Murray is a clinical finisher and generally made the most of whatever came his way.

The move to Dundee United and his subsequent return on loan coincided with a major decline in form for both player and club. Perhaps it was adjusting to the demands of full-time training, but Murray looked badly out of sorts from January onwards and even spent periods as a substitute. The lack of goals from both Murray and McManus saw Arbroath fall from the summit and into the play-off places where they would remain. Four strikes in his final six matches was a timely reminder of his credentials and took his tally for the season to 22 in all competitions.

Whether or not Murray is quite was Dundee United are looking for remains to be seen but his campaign has been a remarkable one.

 

Striker: PETER WEATHERSON (Annan Athletic)

After scoring 21 league goals in just 26 appearances, including a couple of hat-tricks, it was impossible to keep Peter Weatherson out of the team of the year. Injury prevented the veteran forward from making a big impact in League 2 last year – and when he did play he was mostly used as a centre-back – but he has had a highly impressive season this time around. His strength, intelligence and experience make up for the little amount of pace that he has now, and his form has been exactly that of what you would expect from someone with the enviable record of over 450 appearances and 150 goals in the lower leagues.

Weatherson’s threat is mostly inside the penalty area these days but he strikes the ball so well that he can score goals from anywhere, including scorching free-kicks and from inside the centre circle. His double against Livingston in the Scottish Cup showed he still has the ability to compete against teams from higher divisions, but he is at his best when preying on the blind side of defenders’ shoulders when attacking a cross from high up the pitch.

On this form, Weatherson still has plenty football in him yet and Annan will hope that his goals can bring them that one step closer to promotion next year.

 

Manager: JIM WEIR (Elgin City)

When Jim Weir replaced Barry Wilson as the Elgin City manager in late November, his appointment was met with crude snickering (this site included). Weir’s CV was pockmarked with indifference and failure, and he was perceived to be a limited coach and a poor man-manager. Given the Black and White’s dire position – four points adrift at the foot of the table and looking increasingly rudderless – it seemed like a peculiar move from their board.

Instead, Weir’s six months at Borough Briggs have been wholly successful. The club look rejuvenated – only Albion Rovers collected more points between his arrival and the middle of April – and they came within the cusp of concluding the season in fourth place until a stumble with the finishing line in sight. Despite the late disappointment, Elgin have made significant improvements on the pitch.

Moving Danny Moore from a wide position to the middle of the park, recruiting the excellent Ally Gilchrist on loan from St Johnstone and fixing a porous defence, getting the best out of Jamie Reid after a fitful spell at Stenhousemuir – Weir has done a lot in his short time. Other managers might have accomplished more tangible achievements this season but in terms of personal reinvention and changing perceptions of his capabilities, it has been Jim Weir’s year.

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