By Lewis Michie
Allan Johnston will need to improve on Queen of the South’s league performance from last season, that’s a certainty, but it’s already clear that in order do that, he will first need to rebuild the squad Gary Naysmith left behind.
We got in touch with Finlay Jack (@Finaly_Jack5 on Twitter) a Journalism student, all-round QOTS super supporter, and their match-day reporter. He’s given us some much needed insight throughout the article from the eyes of a Queen of the South supporter.
Queen of the South certainly could have had a better end to the 18/19 season, they’d have hoped to be challenging for promotion play-offs, not falling into the relegation equivalent. After the first leg at Links Park – a 2-1 loss to Montrose in the Play-Off semi-final – it looked like the Doonhamers could be going down, but Allan Johnston turned it round to eventually retain Championship status in a convincing manner.
The last 15 games of the season saw just two wins and two draws for QOTS in the league, which suggests that the squad possesses the required quality to compete in the Championship, but were completely done under their former gaffer.
Many cogs of last season’s side have departed, Josh Todd, Lyndon Dykes and Kyle Jacobs all notable departures having all racked up over 3,000 minutes – Jacobs and Dykes both in the top five for minutes played in the squad. Although a core of the side is still left (or at least having not been confirmed to have departed), which you’d assume Johnston will look to build around.
Finlay commented on just how big of a task awaits former Dunfermline manager Allan Johnston, he said:
It’s a massive summer for Queens and Allan Johnston, as he looks to rebuild almost an entire squad”
Stephen Dobbie is of course the big retention for Johnston – he scored 21 times, and assisted four times in the league last season. Dobbie was scoring once every 123 minutes, and he then went on to score a hat-trick against Montrose in the second leg of the play-off semi-final, so he was not only scoring often, but his goals were at many times crucial.
With that said, between Lyndon Dykes, Josh Todd and Gary Harkins – all no longer at the club – they managed to score 20 times between them. The next top scorers after Dobbie that could still with Queen’s next term are Michael Doyle and winger Connor Murray, who had 3 a-piece.
Some of the key players still potentially sticking around next season are Doyle who often swapped between right-back and centre half, left-back Jordan Marshall, winger Andy Stirling, Andy Mercer who is predominantly a right-back and goalkeeper Alan Martin.
Jordan Marshall seems as though he might be unlikely to return to Palmerston, the signing of Kevin Holt – who has previously played as the left full-back for both Queens and Dundee before a stint in Cyprus was met with a positive reaction from supporters, and it’s that signing that could suggest Marshall won’t return.
Finlay gave us lots of insight, including some clues as to why Marshall may be looking to move back South of the border.
Marshall still lives north east England, was offered deals at Ross County at ICT last season but didn’t want to leave home. Suspect it’s a similar story this season, can get a bigger championship club, but won’t want to move.”
Suspect that because Holt signed, we won’t be signing Marshall. But haven’t heard any rumours or anything surrounding Marshall at all”
Along with Connor Murray who didn’t break 1000 minutes, but managed to put himself in the frame as a potential starter during the play-offs. Should all of these players still be retained, the defence and wide positions will be set, although some competition could be required. However, more of the central areas, likely midfield and a second striker will need some work by recruitment.
It’s obvious that Queen’s will want to improve on last season’s performance, but in a league like the Championship, realistically if you aren’t aiming to avoid relegation, then you’re probably aiming to at the very least get into those play-offs and give yourself an opportunity at promotion – that’s got to be where QOTS are looking next season, with a striker like Dobbie you absolutely need to be seeking a top half finish.
Finlay echoed this, he said:
The goal is always to finish 4th place at least, and with Stephen Dobbie in the ranks it should be more than achievable. Although having only stayed up thanks to Falkirk’s season from hell, and successfully negotiating the relegation play-offs, safety will be the first goal.”
Specific transfer targets will surely be formalised already by Allan Johnston, but not many rumors have started to form. Finlay didn’t have any new names he was keen on, but he certainly wanted to see a couple particular names retained from last term, he said:
AJ will be looking to keep hold of key players such as Mikey Doyle and Kyle Jacobs.”
Doyle might yet still be retained, but Jacobs has already departed for Greenock Morton (After our chat with Finlay), which again leaves work to be done in recruiting some central midfield candidates.
Overall, like many teams in the lower reaches of Scottish football – there is plenty of work to be done at Palmerston. There is an even playing field in that manner however, as a few other Championship level outfits also look to rebuild their teams. At this level teams need to find a way to continue to press for promotion to a higher level, or can eventually find themselves slipping out the league altogether – Falkirk, Dumbarton and Raith Rovers all examples in recent years – so it is important the Doonhamers retain their ambition, and possibly most importantly, make the most of Stephen Dobbie while they still have him.