By Lewis Michie
Annan Athletic like many teams at their level live on a season by season basis, often having to rebuild each off-season, which is a burden if they did well the season previous, and a blessing in disguise if they struggled. This season is no exception for Peter Murphy.
Athletic could be considered as a side who often went unnoticed last term – While Peterhead, Edinburgh City and Clyde fought it out for the title, Murphy’s side were slowly progressing towards the top three, and securing their spot in the play-offs incredibly comfortably – finishing off without a defeat in the last five games, winning all but one of those.
In the end Athletic would finish 19 points clear of Stirling Albion, just a point behind third placed Edinburgh. On top of that, Athletic were scoring left, right and centre – finishing with 70 goals scored, which was the highest in the entire division. While still managing to only concede 39, which was the fourth best record, right in line with their actual position. This more than suggests that Athletic were potentially a little bit unlucky to finish behind Edinburgh and even Clyde, with the right stats, but goals not falling at the right times.
All five of the club’s top minute’s earners last season have departed Galabank. Scott Hooper, Chris Johnston and Tony Wallace have all gone up a division along with Athletic’s competitors from last season – Hooper joins Peterhead, while Johnston and Wallace are off to Clyde, who beat Murphy’s side in the play-off final.
Meanwhile David Wilson joins league rivals Stirling Albion and Alex Mitchell has left, although is yet to find a club. Of the next five top minute makers last term, things are a little bit better looking, all but one of them remain at Galabank.
Goals were quite evenly split in 18/19 for Athletic, Aidan Smith was joint top scorer with Tommy Muir – both 21 years old – and while Smith is joining Hooper at Peterhead, Muir does seem to be sticking around, and he managed 14, the same tally as Smith, in about 600 less minutes.
Tony Wallace was the other player to crack double figures, hitting 13, and next up in the rankings was Wilson, so obviously a lot of pressure will be falling on the shoulders of Muir.
Veteran striker Christian Nade is still around, and scored three times last term, but he was still over 200 minutes short of four figures. Another 21 year old striker at Galabank is Ross Fergusson, but with just four goals las season, he will need to up his output if Athletic can come anywhere close to last season’s tally. Another signing in the forward line could really help out Athletic in the coming campaign.
Overall, Athletic need signings fairly desperately – they’ve got 14 registered players and that includes Murphy who is technically player-manager, but did not play a single minute in 18/19.
Like many clubs at their level, Athletic will of course currently be running the rule over a number of trialists – although finding out who they are proves increasingly difficult without the club posting its team-sheets for friendlies, both of which they’ve won so far.
Athletic have been busy this summer, making multiple signings, such as 21 year old winger Scott McLean from Queen’s Park, 23 year old midfielder Lewis McLear from Albion Rovers and goalkeeper Aaran Taylor will replace Mitchell after coming in from Workington Reds.
While Athletic will still need to try and improve their defence, it’s a slightly less pressing issue seeing as they’ve already replaced their goalkeeper. The likes of Aryton Sonkur, Steven Swinglehurst and James Creaney have stayed put, so that give Murphy a chance to build on whatever he already has, rather than replacing it all like he has had to do with his forwards.
Overall, if Athletic manage to finish in the exact position they did last season, then you’d imagine they’d be fairly happy. After all, Edinburgh City will be refocused on chasing promotion, and they’ve got the best striker in the league. However, with Cove Rangers, Stenhousemuir and Brechin City all joining the division, you’d see it becoming very competitive. At this point with a lot of recruiting left to do, you’d probably put your money on Athletic regressing rather than progression. With that said however, a young squad and a manager who’s already lead a play-off push, they’ve got to consider themselves early season favourites for the play-off spots.