By Lewis Michie
When Arbroath started their League One season in blistering form, some onlookers who keep half an eye on the lower divisions might have been a bit surprised. However, Lichties supporters while extremely pleased with the performances of Dick Campbell’s side, probably had a quiet confidence going into the campaign – What might have come as a bit of a bigger shock to supporters was that Raith Rovers didn’t push them quite as hard as they might have predicted.
Realistically, you’d imagine success in the Championship for this coming season for Arbroath would be securing their Championship status and not being relegated. Although, having seen how Ayr United performed following promotion, albeit with what some would call a “once in a life time” squad, no one is going to be ruling out anything in the Championship. ]
We spoke to Arbroath supporter Gordon Gall (@SenaGall86 on Twitter) about last season, the upcoming campaign and everything inbetween, he was certainly pleased with the 18/19 season.
Winning the league was a fantastic achievement. We were the best team by far and we deserved to win the title….. but that’s not to say we did not have a good dose of luck to achieve what we did.
The lack of suspensions and injuries to the squad certainly went a long way towards to us winning the title.”
Everyone at Gayfield Park probably won’t anticipate another title challenge this season, following promotion to the Championship, but they certainly won’t be underestimating their team. The summer transfer window has already begun and while many other sides are already rushing about making signings, Arbroath, despite currently having a fairly thin squad, are taking their time before announcing anything. In fairness, this could come down to a mixture of finance and required quality, with Arbroath maybe not the first choice of many of their primary targets, but Dick Campbell will know he doesn’t have any funds he can waste.
Gordon told us that he’s certain Campbell will be looking to make signings this summer, simply because he will have to in order to even fill a bench.
We have such a small squad that one or 2 injuries or suspensions can cause big problems.”
Campbell did bring in a couple of crucial additions last summer, goalkeeper Darren Jamieson has impressed and won a place in the team of the season in League One for his efforts. Right-back Jason Thomson made 32 appearances after joining from Raith Rovers, helping to secure the title over his former side.
Gordon was full of praise for Jamieson especially, he said:
The bedrock of this defence is our goalkeeper Darren Jamieson, easily our best keeper since the days of Craig Hinchcliffe. His presence in goal seems to inspire the defence in front of them. They don’t have to worry about who is behind them, what will happen if someone gets past them. They have every faith in DJ and gives them the added confidence to perform better.”
Other than that, signings were mixed – Finn Graham joined from Brechin City but didn’t see out the season at Gayfield and has dropped down to Lowland League football, Darren Hill joined and was an able back up goalkeeper, Lewis Toshney looked a decent addition on loan from Dundee United but picked up a long-term injury in his first game and had the loan cancelled. Finally, Callum Smith was loaned in from Dunfermline Athletic but didn’t get the minutes he might have hoped for.
There were a couple of January additions, both in the striker position, which continues to be a problem area for Arbroath. Greig Spence came in from Alloa Athletic, he had shown previous form in the division with the likes of Cowdenbeath and Raith Rover, but he has failed to score as of yet for his new club.
Meanwhile, after scoring 12 goals over the past season and a half for Queen’s Park and Stranraer respectively, Luke Donnelly was brought in to add goals, but he’s only scored the once for Arbroath.
While the striker area does currently have the appropriate numbers, unlike some other areas of the squad, Spence and Donnelly, as well as Steven Doris provide enough depth – With Gavin Swankie who has played more often as a midfielder, having played up-front at Forfar Athletic also an option, but the quality provided from them is a question mark for Arbroath supporters.
This sentiment was echoed by Gordon, he said:
We signed Greig Spence and Luke Donnelly in January and its as clear as day both players are nowhere near good enough.”
Steven Doris is a player that Arbroath fans really want to see get some game time. A bad knee injury in September/October 2017 he was out for almost a year. He got the odd game and sub appearance and then dropped to 4th choice when Spence and Donnelly signed which didn’t help.”
Gordon also has one striker he’d especially love to see come to Gayfield,
There is too many players to choose from. But I would like to see us get Mark McGuigan as it would stop him scoring against us. And im sure he would relish the chance to make the step up. But he may be too expensive for us as he is under contract.”
The question is, if goals are so hard to come by, why are Arbroath promoted in the first place? Well in fairness, they do have a rock-solid defence, conceding six less than the next best backline in the division. Also, they did have three players doing the majority of the scoring. Bobby Linn scored 23 times from the wing, although he is 33 so plans do need to be set in place for the future. Ryan Wallace got 12 goals, but he has already departed to East Fife for the next season, and Michael McKenna was the only other player to hit double figures, he will likely be a central figure next season.
Three out of the next four top goalscorers are all part of the defence, so that obviously shows you that it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see Dick Campbell search the market for a striker.
Midfield will also be an area that needs both quality and numbers in order to compete. Currently Campbell has Michael McKenna, Omar Kader, Bobby Linn, David Gold and Captain Mark Whatley are tasked with covering the central and wide midfield spots.
We’ve covered how secure the defensive line was last season, the four defenders that make up that back-line deserve their chance in the Championship – but the issue is there is literally only four of them. So it won’t be shocking to see Campbell bring in one or two reinforcements, you’d imagine potentially a couple of utility players who can covered at least two positions across the defence.
A key to putting together a team in the Championship this term could be the utilisation of the loan market. In all fairness to Arbroath, they certainly tried that last season but some bad luck meant they didn’t have much to shout about in terms of their loanees.
The Championship is a hot bed for Premiership teams to send their players to for experience and often some of the smaller teams like Arbroath or Alloa benefit from this, for many reasons but coaches have spoken in the past about how often they’d rather send their young players out to a club where there is a real challenge, rather than one at the top of the league. Additionally, the tighter squad makes a more realistic proposition of game time, which clearly makes the parent clubs happy.
It’s obvious Dick Campbell has some work to do in terms of the recruitment side of things in the build up to what is bound to be an incredibly exciting season. You’d imagine at least five additions across the pitch are required in order to provide even nearly enough depth – and that number could increase due to the fact that according to social media posts and Transfermarkt, both back-up goalkeeper Darren Hill and Left-back Colin Hamilton are yet to commit for the 19/20 season.
Facing both Dundee sides is an added bonus on top of playing in the Championship for the Lichties. The budget difference between the likes of United, Dundee and Inverness Caley Thistle in comparison to Arbroath is a reminder that things are set up against Dick Campbell’s men, but that won’t kill their spirit as they look to overcome the odds and survive in Scotland’s second flight.
Who do you think would be a realistic transfer target for Arbroath? Big thanks to Lichtie Gordon Gall for his help!