By Lewis Michie
As the play-offs rage on for some of the best (and worst) performers of the season in Scotland’s lower reaches, other teams now get some time off and some time to plan for next season. Just like the likes of Forfar Athletic and Inverness Caley Thistle’s transitions from struggles last season, to play-off contenders this term in their respective leagues, we are looking to highlight a few sides across the leagues who could be set for a much better campaign next season…
First up, League one’s Dumbarton…
A sixth placed finish for former Championship stalwarts, that type of league positioning wouldn’t have been exactly what the Glasgow outskirt’s based side will have been hoping for at the beginning of the campaign – but they’d likely have taken it back in October when long-term boss Steve Aitken departed, to be replaced by managerial veteran Jim Duffy.
Following relegation, via the play-offs, from the Championship in the 17/18 season, Dumbarton started the campaign with just two wins from nine, sticking them second bottom in that all-too-familiar relegation play-off zone. Surely two consecutive relegations were unimaginable? (Just tell Brechin City that.)
Despite Duffy’s arrival, things didn’t turn round straight away and up until the last few weeks on the season, they were still very much in a relegation battle. In the last six games of the season they avoided any losses, and managed to pick up three wins in that period, which may have granted them a slightly favourable looking league position in the context of the season. The club ended up just six points adrift of the final play-off spot claimed by Montrose however, and with form like they had in the last couple months of the season, it would be fair to suggest they’d maybe have made a push for the play-offs had the season lasted a few games more.
So what makes this Dumbarton side, who really only fulfilled some of their potential in the last few games of the season a contender to push at the right end of the division next season?
First of all, the good form from the end of one campaign can often carry over to the next. For example, Arbroath secured a play-off spot last season, where they actually lost to Dumbarton, with a run of two wins and a draw in their final four games. They’d then come bouncing back into this season with two wins in a row, and not tasting defeat until match day 18. If you start the season well, that momentum can take you a long way at this level.
In addition to this, helped by and potentially skewed by their long stint in the Championship, according to transfermarkt, Dumbarton have the most valuable squad in League One, with only Raith Rovers being anywhere close by comparison. Jim Duffy’s side also have the second most expensive side in terms of market value, just slightly trailing Rovers this time. This would all point towards Dumbarton currently underperforming and having the talent and spending ability more likely to cause a dent in this league.
Which players have been the most influential this season for the club? Well unfortunately for the Sons, Dom Thomas is certainly shown himself to be their best player this season, across 30 appearances in all competitions the winger has scored 15 and assisted nine. The unfortunate part for Dumbarton is the fact the 23 year old is on loan from Kilmarnock, and there have been quite a few Killie fans calling for a place to be made in the squad for Thomas next season.
Former Rangers youth player Calum Gallagher has also been another main source of goals, with 14 in all competitions and Ross Forbes who always received rave reviews in the Championship had a quality season after joining last summer, scoring 13 and assisting 7 as an ever present in the side.
To really challenge next term Dumbarton will have two main goals – retaining as much of that talent as possible, and then replacing the likes of Thomas should he not return, and in addition to that, they’ve got to plug a hole defensively. Brechin have been relegated, Stenhousemuir could yet join them and yet they are the only sides to have conceded more this season – and even then they both only let in one more goal than Dumbarton allowed.
Dumbarton in fact only scored three less goals than eventual Champions Arbroath, so even in loosing Thomas, if they can make a few defensive additions and even replace half of the goals the Killie wide man managed this term, they could easily mount a title challenge.