By Lewis Michie
Making the step up from one league to another is never easy, and there are no guarantees – at least for the most part. However, one thing Clyde should pretty much leave no doubt of providing this season in League One is a fighting spirit and a hell of a lot of entertainment. We spoke to Bully Wee super fan Dylan Macdonald, who helped us out with some insight for this season preview on Danny Lennon’s team.
Clyde often last season looked like everything was going against them. They inserted themselves into a two-horse title race, only to be struck with a very harsh point deduction, followed up promptly with a loss which many felt would rule out their title bid altogether. Paired with some shaky results from Peterhead, Clyde’s heads didn’t go down and they soldiered on, pushing the northern side to the very last day – only to once again feel like they’d gone so close, yet didn’t quite do enough as Peterhead secured the title. Despite this, heads once again did not go down, which you could possibly say happened at League Two rivals Edinburgh City, and Clyde went on to earn promotion via the play-offs.
Dylan told us just how long fans like himself have been waiting for this promotion, saying:
After nearly a decade in League Two, Clyde finally gained promotion to League One as Danny Lennon’s team beat Annan Athletic in a closely fought and dramatic play-off final. This was the first time Clyde had moved up the Scottish football pyramid since their Division Two (as it was formerly and fondly known) title win in the 1999/2000 season.”
This season Danny Lennon takes his side into a division which is never easy and always competitive. Many spectators will tip Falkirk as early season favourites to run away with the title, and with their budget they absolutely should do that. The other nine positions are not even nearly predictable, and it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see Clyde finish in any of those places.
We wanted to know what Clyde did best last term, and Dylan told us it was often just getting the fans off their seats, saying:
Despite their impressive defensive resilience last season, Clyde’s attacking flair last season was at times a joy to watch. On paper, with early recruitment, it looks like it could improve further going into the new season.”
Last term Clyde had the third best defence in the division and were the third highest scorers too, so the fact they finished in second, seven points ahead of third placed City maybe suggests that gap wasn’t as big as the points ended up suggesting – a lot of the Broadwood faithful would probably be happy to concede that fact however.
Nonetheless, what this did prove is that Clyde had a squad that was undisputedly one of the best in the fourth tier, and with such a small quality difference often found between League One and Two – it’s not all that surprising that many felt that one or two suitable additions to that squad would have them pushing towards the top of the third tier.
Building on the group already established at Broadwood is actually a more achievable task for Clyde in comparison to many other sides in the SPFL’s bottom two division – with many others, for example Dumbarton and Brechin – having to deal with high turnover – Clyde meanwhile have retained nine out of their top 11 minute earners from 18/19.
While goalkeeper Blair Currie’s release possibly caught some off guard, he was quickly replaced by former Falkirk man David Mitchell, who appears an able replacement for the stopper – meaning this is not a departure that should worry Bully Wee supporters too much.
The one player who has left that will really have Clyde fans frustrated is defender Tom Lang who enjoyed a fantastic season last term. While frustrated, Clyde fans will likely also understand that the big defender has moved to Championship Dunfermline Athletic as he showed the ability of a Championship level defender last term.
Again, Lennon moved quickly to find a replacement for his key player, bringing in 23 year old Craig Howie – formerly of East Kilbride, in fact he was Kilbride’s player of the season last year as they lifted the Lowland League title fairly convincingly.
This transfer obviously offers a slight bit more risk, with the step up from the Lowland League to League one, however, if you can manage to be the best player for the Champions in the Lowland league at just 23, especially as a defender, you’d have to assume this boy has some talent. Plus he was used in two pre-season games as a trialist already, so you’d feel Lennon has already seen that Howie is a good fit for his squad.
Of the next five top minute earners last season, only two remain, winger Ally Love and 20 year old forward Kristoffer Syversten. So not only would you imagine Clyde would like to add one more two more bits of quality above what they already have, you’d think they might require a bit more depth as well – with last season’s more commonly used substitutes seemingly deemed surplus to requirements for the most part.
Bringing in a few players potentially better than those already in the starting eleven, with those former starting players moving back to the bench, or overall competing with their new teammates is a smart tactic, instead of bringing in players with the sole purpose of using them as depth – after all, in many cases, should a side really be signing a player unless they can potentially go straight into their first eleven.
In what would seem to be an intelligent move, the first port of call for Lennon who looking to add some more quality to his squad was plucking some of the better talent still left in League Two, tempting them with the chance of playing a level higher.
Tony Wallace and Chris Johnston have been recruited from Annan Athletic – the side Clyde defeated to gain promotion, and Darren Smith adds goals and some experience at the age of 31.
Wallace scored 12 in League Two last season, while Smith got 11 – and David Goodwillie was second top scorer in the league with 17. Overall that gives a lot of options for Clyde in terms of goalscoring – plus their midfield and defence was producing a decent amount of goals last season too.
Dylan offered his thoughts on the overall recruitment for Clyde, telling us:
Clyde’s recruitment has been conducted early this summer, with what looks like shrewd acquisitions from their play-off final counterparts in the form of Chris Johnston and Tony Wallace, who were both featured in the League Two team of the season.
Alongside this, Clyde have recruited a new number one going into this campaign. A surprise to many supporters, last season’s promotion winning League Two team of the season goalkeeper, Blair Currie, was released and perhaps less surprisingly, snapped up by Stirling Albion just as quickly.
David Mitchell has been brought in from Falkirk as Danny Lennon and his management team look for different qualities from their keeper in a higher quality division. Of all of this summer’s transfer business so far, I’d say the jury is still out on this decision, but we are all hoping that Mitchell hits the ground running and is a safe pair of hands in League One.”
The transfer business thus far for Clyde has proven to look fairly good on paper – but of course matches are never won on paper. Nonetheless, you’d feel they’ve already set themselves up with a decent side to face the challenge of the third tier, especially considering many supporters are setting the task of simply staying in the division. Which really leaves them the task of being better than any other two sides in the division.
Dylan was quite clear however, two of the best signatures Lennon has secured this summer weren’t even new ones – it was retaining his midfield due, two names you might want to keep noted down, Dylan said:
Much like this time last season, managing to retain the midfield duo of Ray Grant and Chris McStay looks set to be another masterstroke by the club. Both players who look to have a bright future in the Scottish game have signed on for another season with Clyde in League One and must feel the club can push on further and potentially challenge for another play-off spot this season.”
Another one or two signings is entirely possible with some much time left to complete the business, and you’d expect as much. Nonetheless, Danny Lennon has given himself plenty of time to make sure those signings are well thought out and worthwhile.
Infact, the squad is fairly unbalanced, boasting plenty of talent that can play central midfield or as a winger, and still a decent sized group of strikers. The back-line however really will need additions, with the club’s own website only classifying four of the current squad as “defenders” and by trade it would appear just the one – Kieran Duffie – is a known right-back and they do not at the moment possess a career left sided full-back.
With that said though, Barry Cuddihy played as a right-back for much of the previous season and impressed, so it isn’t as dire as even the club’s own website makes it sound in terms of numbers, plus listed centre-back Martin McNiff played Left-back on plenty of occasions, but they’ll certainly need numbers to fill in on the occasions of injury and suspension.
Dylan was in agreement that the backline was probably the area the gaffer still needed to take a look at, telling us:
Defence is still an area of improvement for Lennon and his team. Losing influential centre-back Tom Lang to Dunfermline was expected but still a blow, we have yet to replace him and the search continues for the next centre back partner for Scott Rumsby. Having retained last season’s player of the year, Barry Cuddihy, the defence certainly doesn’t need a full reset, but two or three additions are needed in my opinion.”
Finally, we asked Dylan a very simple question, what do you feel the club’s ambitions should be in 19/20? He answered:
Like all football fans, being led by your heart or head can lead to very different outcomes. I think consolidating mid-table in League One would be a very positive first season back in the league for the club but with impressive recruitment and retentions, I don’t see why Clyde can’t push on and challenge for one of those coveted promotion play-off spots. We’ve been through enough in recent years, let’s keep the good times going!”
Overall, as long as Clyde stay in the division there is bound to be some sort of happiness at that, however, with the squad they’ve assembled, the how the team got on last season taken into consideration, you’d reckon there is more than enough about them to at least put in a challenge for a play-off place. Even if they miss out, with so much competition for those places in 19/20, a mid-table finish, with at least having shown they’d challenged, is something for Clyde to continue to build on.