By Lewis Michie
Things were tight in League Two last season – really tight. Edinburgh City were pushing Jim McInally’s Peterhead all the way, and when City let up and couldn’t push anymore, Clyde were right there continuing on where the Edinburgh side let off. If Peterhead didn’t go up, it might have been the end for McInally at Balmoor, but unlike the season before when Montrose secured the League Two title, Peterhead made themselves Champions and secured promotion on the final day of the season.
Every summer is a hectic time for pretty much all lower-league side, and Peterhead are no exception this year. Most sides only retain players on one year deals, so come the off-season many that impressed have the chance to move onto something else, something better and Peterhead are no exception in that.
Many were surprised when Ryan Dow made the move to Peterhead, so it was probably just as surprising (Or not surprising) that he’s been offered – and taken – the opportunity to return to the Championship with Dunfermline this season. That’s five goals and three assists that have departed right along with Dow.
Shane Sutherland has been transfer listed. In an odd development the striker who signed from Elgin City in the January window has struggled to settle, with rumours that Inverness had been interested in signing Sutherland literally the day after he’d penned his deal with Peterhead, plus long travel times from his home in Elgin.
Although Peterhead may yet retain the forward, the majority of clubs he has been linked with would not really remedy any travel woes – unless of course he decides to return to Elgin City once again, which would come as a major boost for City.
Some of the rumoured departures are yet to be confirmed, so Jim McInally will hold out hope, but it’s a waiting game at this point.
Midfielder Scott Brown has been linked with the chance to join up again with Dow at Dunfermline, although that deal appears to be on the rocks slightly, Jack Leitch – also part of the strong midfield at the club – has links with full-time clubs, following his double on the final day, although defender Jason Brown has committed his future to McInally’s squad.
Derek Lyle and Rory McAllister have a combined age of 70 – but they delivered a goal return of 26 goals last term between them, so if Lyle signs a new contract with the club, the duo could provide some much needed ammo up top for Peterhead in League One.
McInally put together a defence last season that conceded the least goals in the division, and it appears he has mostly kept that group together thus far, and on top of that he has managed to secure the signature of Annan Athletic defender Scott Hooper – one of League Two’s best performers last term. So keeping the ball out of the net looks like it will also be a strong point for the Blue Toon next season.
With those elements added together, it’s mostly the core of the team that might need some recruitment from McInally and his backroom staff – although if Leitch and Brown decided to stay put, that would certainly make things a lot easier. Even then a couple of wingers and a young striker to put pressure on Lyle and McAllister wouldn’t go a miss either.
Of the eleven top minute earners last season, only Ryan Dow has confirmed he will be leaving Balmoor – although as mentioned, Leitch and Scott Brown – who made the second most appearances – could follow him out the door yet. Nonetheless, that would still leave seven of those eleven stalwarts at the club to face League One.
Familiarity isn’t always a good thing, but keeping a winning group together and propelling from the momentum gathered from last season’s title win could be crucial in getting off to a good start in League One – and starting on the right foot can often be the difference between success and failure at this level.
Judging exactly where the blue toon’s ambition lies this coming season is difficult to work out, realistically any team in League One can have hopes of potentially pushing towards the play-off spots or beyond. Recent seasons at this level have shown that with a solid core, a decent start to the season and a bit of luck around the way, you never know where you will end up.
If Leitch and Brown do return to the north of Scotland, and potentially with one or two new signings right along with them, Peterhead very well could have enough about them to push towards the top half of League One.
A season of maintaining League One status and not quite making it into the play-offs, or making it to the play-offs without much of a chance of progressing through them might not be the worst case scenario for Peterhead. Arbroath and Forfar both came up two seasons ago, Forfar narrowly avoided relegation in their first season, while Arbroath got to the play-offs but never seemed like a serious threat for promotion. The following season they finished in the top two, Arbroath promoted to the Championship as champions and Athletic unfortunate not to make it to the play-off final.
Ultimately League One might be the hardest division to predict this season, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see any one team finishing in any single position, and Peterhead are no exception. It’s a struggle to foresee them running away with the League title, but anywhere from the bottom two, to even sliding into a play-off spot, although likely with a great deal of competition, wouldn’t come with a great deal of shock – one or two players could make all the difference.