When I decided to manage Annan Athletic in the Scottish third division (or League 2, as it’s now known), hitting the bottom of the league and going out of the Scottish Cup against Brora in the second round stage wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
The Brora defeat in particular wasn’t so much as a kick in the nads, but like jumping onto a bicycle with the seat missing. I’m not one to blame the referee easily, but that bastard waived red cards at two of our players and handed the opposition a penalty when we were down to nine men. What hurt the most was that it came on the back of a great 2-1 league victory over table toppers Berwick, in which we really impressed.
It’s the end of September and I’m sixth in the league, with eight points from seven games. Our season started with a 4-2 defeat at Peterhead, which probably told me more about my defence than any other area of the team. We then followed that up with the most boring 0-0 draw imaginable at home to Queen’s Park, before recording a fluky 2-1 victory at Montrose.
There then followed a disappointing 3-1 home defeat to wooden spoon collectors East Stirling, before we really impressed and dominated against Albion – yet somehow only drew 1-1. A 2-0 defeat at Clyde actually sent us bottom for a weekend, before we atoned with that tremendous win over Berwick.
That dodgy league form was mixed in with some decent cup form. We got a great 1-0 win at League 1 Ayr in the Challenge Cup first round, and then followed that up with a superb win on penalties away at Championship Raith (2-2 after extra time). We were given a chance of progressing to the semi-final with a home tie against League 1 Stranraer, but we were bloody awful in that, losing 4-1 immediately after that embarrassing defeat to East Stirling in the league.
We crashed out of the Scottish League Cup straight away – 5-0 at Falkirk, which was our second match of the season and came before we got our league campaign underway.
The media predicts us to finish sixth and that’s exactly where we are, but since our defence is shite and my central midfielders either get injured or sent off, I’ve found myself under pressure. So much so that it was rumoured I could be given the push if I didn’t get a result at Brora. Oh dear.
Pre-season went really well, with no genuine sign of the defence troubles that were to come (although I did lose 4-0 at home to Premier side Ross County, but that was more to do with a spectacularly adventurous tactic I tried for a laugh). I tore apart Carlisle’s Under-21s 5-1 and then held the genuine Cardiff City first team for 71 minutes when they scored the only goal of the game. And I gave Middlesbrough’s Under-21 side a run for their money in a 1-1 draw.
So then, the players…
It doesn’t matter if it’s Alex Mitchell or Kenny Arthur in goal; I’m conceding left, right and centre. The coaches reckon Steven Black is my best centre back, but he’s been disappointing so far, while Steven Swinglehurst has been even poorer. Peter Bradley’s meant to be a better left back than centre back, but he’s done alright in the middle so I brought 19-year old Andrew Steeves in on loan from St Johnstone to play on the left. And he’s been shit.
Midfield is doing my nut in. Dan Orsi and Ally Love are my wingers, but neither seem to be scoring or assisting. David Hopkirk has played on both wings and up front, and has marginally impressed as a striker. Peter Weatherson is my experienced striker-cum-centre back, and has been used as the target man, but apart from notching the winner at Ayr he’s generally been useless.
Martin McNiff has decent stats but he’s either rubbish or does well before getting sent off. Steven Sloan is old and can barely make it through 45 minutes without feeling exhausted. Same goes for Chris Jardine. Matt Flynn is more attack-minded but he’s yet to do anything to impress. Josh Todd is young and probably the closest to any genuine talent I have in the middle, but I’ve had my fairly reliable assistant chirping away in my ear to drop him. This is my central midfield dilemma.
So I brought in David Muir, 25-year old who played six seasons at League 1 East Fife. His record seemed to suggest he hardly gets injured, and while that’s not untrue he’s been massively unfit since he joined us at the start of August. He’s only just come into the reckoning in these past couple of games (and was part of the win over Berwick, which really excited me) but he’s another with shocking stamina.
I’ve also signed Graeme Owens, a Middlesbrough graduate who’s just had two good seasons at Airdrie in the league above. He had an awful debut but has slowly improved, playing best on the right wing (but he can play in the centre). I also had a punt on 18-year old Timothy Mjallby, who was released by Celtic. He’s in the reserves for now.