By Lewis Michie
It’s not often a teams’ success is roundly appreciated by the majority of a country, regardless of allegiance to rival clubs, but Jim Goodwin’s Alloa Athletic have come just about as close as you’d imagine anyone can.
As if promotion to the Championship via the play-offs last season wasn’t impressive enough, former St Mirren man Goodwin led his Alloa side to an eighth placed finish, not just avoiding automatic relegation, but also the relegation play-off. While sides such as Falkirk and Queen of the South, who did finish below Athletic, and Partick Thistle who often felt in the season as though they might do, didn’t want to occupy a league position underneath Alloa, most of their supporters admitted their teams didn’t deserve to finish above Goodwin’s side either.
Even more impressive was the fact that according to Transfermarkt, Alloa had a squad market value less than half of that of Queen of the South, and almost a third of Falkirk’s – plus enjoyed this success with a squad made up with a significant number of loan signings.
One thing that will concern Alloa however is that despite staying up, no other team conceded more goals last season – opposition sides netted 53 times against the Wasps.
On top of that, 22 of the club’s goals scored last season were netted by players who as of writing will not be playing at Recreation Park next term – either because their loan ended, like Dario Zanatta who has returned to Hearts, or because they’ve departed the club altogether, like Jordan Kirkpatrick who has joined Forfar Athletic.
With that said, Alan Trouten on his own managed to net 19, and Iain Flannigan a further eight – so the fact both of them are still at the club could be crucial – although with Trouten aged 33 and Flannigan 31, it is always a worry than they might start to decline before the club is able to fully replace them.
Ask any Alloa supporter and they will tell you that the key thing to their continued success will be keeping hold of their beloved manager Jim Goodwin.
That’s exactly what Wasps supporter Kieren Mooney (@KierenAAFC on Twitter) told us, he said:
One of the biggest things for us is keeping hold of our manager. Goodwin has always said he wants to go full-time but is in no rush. The work he’s done so far hasn’t gone unnoticed and no doubt clubs will be asking the question so when the merry-go -round for managers begins.”
Our chairman has been touting him in the press and I think he’s now learnt his trade enough to be a success full-time. He would go with all the fans best wishes but there’s no doubt that it’d be a massive blow. Goodwin is one of the most important pieces of this successful jigsaw!”
Kieren also echoed the sentiment that more goals are required from this Alloa side, as well as a bit of depth for a team who he said were “blessed” to have not had to deal with any major injuries.
No doubt the squad will need some more depth.”
We worked with the lowest amount of players in the league so more quality in depth is needed. On top of that, Goodwin has expressed already that the top target is a striker. Names such as Blair Henderson have been linked and that’s split opinion as to whether he can make the step up to the Championship to fire us to safety once more.”
More depth to the midfield and attack would certainly help Alloa, but it won’t help keep the club from letting as many in at the other end. With that said however, while the likes of Andy Graham and Neil Parry, centre-back and goalkeeper, 35 and 33, are unlikely to get better than they are now, they do have younger players around them who could just keep getting better. Right-back Scott Taggart, 27, is the only other player along with Parry and Graham to play every minute of last season. Liam Dick played the most after them, the 23 year old left-back joined last summer from Dumbarton.
Both of the full-backs are still at an age where they might improve. The most common centre-back partner for Graham was Aberdeen loanee Sam Roscoe, 20, it may be an aim of Goodwin to either bring in an improvement on Roscoe, or seek to have Roscoe return to Recreation Park, with the hope that with another year of first team football under his belt – he’d shine further.
Kieren believes the loan market will likely need to be utilised next season in order to bring more quality to Goodwin’s side, although he believes the chances of keeping Heart’s Zanatta are “next to none”
Replacing him will be extremely difficult but Alloa have utilised the loan market excellently in recent years with Jake Hastie being another example so no doubt his position will be filled.”
Additions in the market this summer could be crucial for yet another season in the Championship for Alloa, but for their supporters they will be keen the club doesn’t abandon what brought them there in the first place – a real fighting spirit and some good old fashion desire, as well as a good dose of faith from Goodwin.
That very idea is rounded off quite well by Kieren, he said:
Alloa have a fantastic core of a team. The likes of Neil Parry, Andy Graham, Scott Taggart, Stevie Hetherington, Iain Flannigan and Kevin Cawley have been with Alloa through it all. When many others doubted them, Goodwin built a team round them and with their ability and fighting spirit they showed everyone what they are capable off. Thankfully, the manager has already got them signed up for next season. Proper pro’s who know the club and fight for the club.”
Outlining what Alloa might need to improve on is one thing, actually finding and recruiting suitable additions on a budget is quite another. Bringing back players who impressed last term can be difficult because as soon as bigger clubs with more impressive budgets see a player succeeding at Alloa, they can likely secure them if they like.
Alloa will ultimately face an uphill battle but they’ve really just got to do better than any two other teams, at the very least. Arbroath may face an even bigger battle after their promotion, so aim number one for Athletic will be positioning themselves above the Angus side. The Championship is unpredictable at the best of times, so there is always a chance a bigger side than Alloa might have a complete meltdown as well, so you just never know. Without Jim Goodwin however, you’d imagine finding a manager who could get as much out of the budget and group of players provided could be a difficult task, so keeping hold of their gaffer is paramount.