Feature: Season Preview – Airdrieonians

By Lewis Michie

Airdrieonians finished last season three points adrift of the play-off spots, which certainly isn’t a bad place to finish – especially for a team that has spent eight of their past ten seasons at that level – but just like any team in the Scottish lower leagues, they will surely be harbouring some hope to jump to the next division, and with the switch to a hybrid system – which will see the club using a mix of full-time and part-time players – this year could be the time to do it.

We spoke to Gordo who is a big Diamond’s supporter, he laid out the story around the club at the moment, saying:

2018/19 was supposed to be the rebirth of Airdrieonians on the back of new owners and a raft of new players who were established league one campaigners.

However results and performances were distinctly underwhelming and gaffer Stephen Findlay paid the price for a poor start, replaced in October by Ian Murray.

Murray initially stabilised results but the Diamonds failed to find any consistency during the remainder of the campaign.

Murray’s reaction, aided by new Director Of Football Stuart Millar,  has been savage to say the least.

Gone are big names such as Kyle Wilkie, Grant Gallagher, Scott Stewart, Joao Victoria, and Leighton McIntosh among many others.   Expect transfer listed Ryan Conroy and Jonathan Page to leave soon too.

In their place, full time manager Ian Murray will have a dozen or so full time players to work with alongside his part-time corp.   This will be a mixture of established young players and recent academy  graduates.”

When you look at the comments coming out of the Penny Car stadium this summer, there is clearly ambition to finish higher than the fifth place Airdrie managed last term, and there is no reason for any team in the league not to aim for that.

The club have only finished higher than fifth (Where they’ve finished three times) once in the SPFL era – that’s when they finished third in the 16/17 season. While that’s frustrating for many reasons, they’ve also never finished lower than seventh, and that joins the 13/14 season where it was a sixth placed finish, that the club have failed to finish in the top half.

This shows that Airdrie have consistently been on the cusp of being one of those sides really challenging for promotion, and a gamble like the hybrid system, combined with some smart acquisitions this summer could very well give them that final push – after all, these past two seasons in League One have shown that there is not a whole lot between many of the teams in the third tier.

With all these things happening off of the pitch, it’s still sensible to ask what needs to change on the pitch to allow Airdrie to jump at least one place in their next season. There has been a large turnover in players this summer, but nonetheless, a core of last season’s players still remain at the club and most importantly in making the case that last season’s stats still retain relevancy – the manager, Ian Murray, remains the same.

The biggest area of retention in the squad during the transfer window has been in the defence – Centre-back Sean Crighton and goalkeeper David Hutton were both within the top five minute earners last term and remain under contract – which is fairly handy for Ian Murray, considering Champions Arbroath were the only side in the division to concede less than his team in 18/19. And they’ve  added to the back line this summer with the likes of former Hearts and St Mirren Left-back Adam Eckersley and Callum Fordyce, formerly of Queen of the South – among others.

The 44 Airdrie let in was just six more than the League winners, three less than second placed Forfar, five less than Raith Rovers and six less than Montrose who pipped them to the final play-off spot by the space of three points.

The use of a five at the back system likely could have played a part in the solid defensive display, making it a tougher job for opponents to break Airdrie down. That on the flip side of course can also of course negatively impact the ability of a side going forward, or so you’d think, but that wasn’t quite the case here.

Gordo also feels the midfield will be in good hands, he said:

In midfield man mountain  at Wedderburn joins from rivals Raith.  Wedderburn should bring that coveted “strength and stability” we lacked.   He’ll pair up either with destroyer Kieran Miller or the hugely creative ex Killie player Dean Hawkshaw.”

While Ian Murray’s managed to vastly over perform their league position defensively, they also scored on par with their league positioning.

With 51 comes Ian Murray’s side were handily outscored by the likes of Raith – with 75 and Arbroath with 63. Although with that said, they were still the fifth most prolific scorers in the division – and with Montrose finishing above them despite scoring less and conceding more, you’d suggest a bit of luck and goals falling/not falling in the right games played a massive part in fortunes for Airdrie last term – and could potentially swing their way this season.

The problem of course with that line of thinking is that while you’d be surprised if the difficult to break down defence changed this summer, with much of the personnel sticking around, the bulk of the scorers from 18/19 have departed the Penny Car Stadium. On top of that, if you want to push for the Championship, most sides will need to be outscoring more than just one half of the division.

Of the club’s top five goal scorers last season, all but one are no longer there (And he was the fifth top scorer) Leighton McIntosh finished the season on top form, and ended up with a total of 15 – but unfortunately for the club that earned him a move to Wrexham. Darryl Duffy was one goal worse off, but he was let go.

Joao Vitoria had begun the season in pretty decent form – by the end of October he’d scored seven times and also added three assists. He was then sent out to Stranraer on loan in January, managing to score four times, and has now moved to Raith Rovers after the expiry of his contract.

Kyle Wilkie scored eight from midfield, but has departed, while Ryan Conroy sticks around after notching five (Although apparently could yet still depart). Overall, just 14 of the goals from last term belong to players who will plays for the Diamonds in 19/20, so there is certainly a rebuilding job for Murray in attack.

Gordo gave us some insight into the players who have come in, hoping to add the goals to Ian Murray’s squad, he said:

Callum Gallagher comes in from Dumbarton.   He scored 13 in 27 starts last season but not all his starts were in the striker role, so there are hopes he can at least score 15-20  next season.

Former Jambo Ally Roy is only 22 and a local lad.  He joins after a disjointed season at Derry then Partick.   A big mobile centre forward, Ally has a similar profile to recent League One stars as Kevin Nisbet, Andy Ryan and Laurence Shankland who. have all dropped at a similar age and established themselves immediately.   However,  there is a massive risk if he doesn’t take to it.”

In terms of the overall aim for the club this season, they realistically need to be finishing within that top four and proceeding to the Play-offs in order to see the season qualify as a success. Airdrie will be looking towards the Championship in the next year or so, they really have to in order to justify paying 15 players a full-time contract. You’d imagine they have enough financing secured in order to spent at least one more season in the third operating this way – you’d hope so too because getting out of the league won’t be easy whatsoever.

 

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