Feature: Season Preview – Falkirk

By Lewis Michie

It’s fair to say pretty much everything over the past two seasons has been a disaster for Falkirk, one season in League One will be bad enough for a club of the Bairns stature, but more than that could change even more for the club and make the future very difficult – so it’s crucial that Ray McKinnon leads Falkirk back to Scotland’s second tier, and it will ideally be via winning the league title.

We previewed the Bairns upcoming season, with a bit of help from Falkirk Fan Media (@FalkirkFanMedia on Twitter)

Many Bairns will be surprised that McKinnon is still around, with plenty of them losing confidence in their boss following relegation – but the business being completed so far this summer would suggest McKinnon’s contacts are coming in extremely handy, with a handful – okay two handfuls – of his former players joining him in the third tier – a division which many spectators would suggest is far below many of those players abilities.

Relegation is obviously in most cases a disaster, this is no exception, but on most occasions they go one of two ways. Either things spiral and everything gets worse for the team, or they use it as almost a reset button and the chance to rebuild in a lower division, enjoy a season of success and then returning to the Championship a revitalised club.

Looking at many of Falkirk’s stats from last season would on the face of things appear pointless – Paul Dixon, Ian McShane and Ross MacLean are really the only potential first teamers left around from the Championship season – but with that said, the same coaching team are still in charge, so trends could present themselves.

Two other clubs – Alloa Athletic and Partick Thistle – conceded more goals last season than Falkirk. Another two – Queen of the South and Morton let in less than five more. So evidently, there is somewhat of an ability to coach a defence there. Dixon remains at the club as the left-back and the additions of Mark Durnan and Gregor Buchanan to the central areas and former Queen of the South right-back Michael Doyle offers a solid back four, which should perform in League One.

Cammy Bell brings plenty of experience to the goalkeeping position, although many Falkirk fans are underwhelmed by the addition. A bit more depth added to the squad should give the backline a decent chance of being the best defence in the division.

FFC Media said they are hopeful the defence will be solid enough for the league, but do feel the jury could still be out on some components of the backline, saying:

The back 4 is mixed, Dixon had good spells season however he wasn’t great after his sending off at Cappielow, Buchanan and Durnan should be a solid duo in league 1 alongside Michael Doyle at RB.”

The goalkeeping spot has been taken up by Cammy Bell, He was appalling for Thistle last year though, and until I see him play for Falkirk I’ll be unsure if our gk spot is weak”

Dunfermline and Morton both scored less goals than Falkirk last season, there was only 37 times Ray McKinnon’s side found the net in the 18/19 campaign however. The top scorer was Rangers loanee Zak Rudden with 12 – you’d feel it is unlikely they’d want to loan him out to the third tier. That just leaves the three goals of Ian McShane in the current squad.

That is still the main concern for Falkirk; they’ve yet to add any strikers to line-up so far this summer. The midfield, which is looking pretty strong with McShane and MacLean  still around and signings of Michael Tidser – much to the rage of Greenock Morton supporters – winger Aidan Connolly, Morgaro Gomis and Charlie Telfer all help add plenty of depth in that area. Grant Gillespie is also rumoured to be joining too.

Tidser could be very important in adding more goals, he scored eight times in all competitions last term and perhaps even more importantly he produced 12 assists.

Between Telfer and Connolly there were 6 goals and 5 assists in the Championship in 18/19, they’d both be disappointed with that return, but it will give hope to Bairns supporters that they can produce the goods on occasion, and hopefully those occasions increase considering the drop of division.

FFC Media told us that the midfield is certainly the strongest area of McKinnon’s squad –

The strongest area of the squad is definitely midfield, Michael Tidser is a premiership quality midfielder and he can be partnered alongside Telfer, McShane or Gomis. We lacked creativity last year but the midfielders we have can erase that issue.”

At minimum FCC Media feel McKinnon will need to recruit another striker and possible a winger, but just who’s been linked that can fulfil that gap?

Denny Johnstone is another former McKinnon player, again at Morton, whose deal was up this summer, the 24 year old has previously scored 17 goals in 47 games at Championship level for Morton – so he could do the trick.

Another link is Blair Malcolm, a 22 year old winger formerly of Ross County – he spent last season in League Two with Cowdenbeath and his return of one goal and a single assist in 40 appearances across all competitions certainly won’t inspire many Bairns, but at his age he could certainly still kick on. Malcolm was spotted training with McKinnon’s side this last week.

Rumours of other strikers, which is the position badly needing strengthening are few and far between. Kris Doolan is a name you’d immediately look to – although you’d think the former Partick Thistle stalwart would potentially attract Championship suitors – but other players such as Tidser have already chosen Falkirk over playing at a level higher, so you never know.

Other proven scorers in League One last season including Mark McGuigan who scored 16 times for relegated Stenhousemuir, could he be tempted to make a move which could rival some of the movers from Morton in terms of backlash?

The aim will obviously be to win League One – while gaining promotion via the play-offs would at least return Falkirk to the Championship, it likely wouldn’t appease supporters and Ray McKinnon probably wouldn’t see out the season.

Last term in League One Arbroath ran away with things, while the chasing pack of the likes of Raith Rovers, Forfar Athletic, East Fife and Montrose could hardly be separated. If Falkirk can give themselves an early lead in the league rankings it wouldn’t be shocking to see the other teams taking points off of each other, allowing the Bairns to run away with things somewhat. Right now you’d assume no other teams stick out as favourites, it’s hard to separate the majority of the rest of the league in terms of their squads, and the teams with the most impressive transfer business so far are teams who spent the majority of last season closer to the foot of the division or in League Two, so it actually only makes things into a bigger dog-fight.

Nothing is acceptable truthfully considering the size of Falkirk (without sounding too stupid, we should never be in the third tier of Scottish football)”

said FFC Media.

With the signings we’ve brought in I’m confident we will get back up into the championship”

The season begins away to newly promoted Peterhead and that could easily be a banana skin – no matter the quality of the additions, if Peterhead give Falkirk a difficult day it could end the new chapter straight away and turn the support again.

Following on from that the Bairns have a double header of home games against Dumbarton and Montrose who will both have eyes for the play-offs. Despite the difficulty of these fixtures, it’s important that Ray McKinnon’s side pick up nine points from the three fixtures, or at the very least avoid defeat and take minimum seven points – starting on the right foot is often crucial to a League One campaign and  momentum very often comes into play.

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