By Lewis Michie
Brechin City have had two pretty difficult seasons, to say the least. Relegated in both, City have fallen from the Championship down to League Two, in that time they’ve won just nine games and drawn 15 times – over 72 games. Barry Smith is now the man in charge, he took over last November, but couldn’t save the team from automatic relegation as they finished bottom of League One.
A major squad rebuild is in progress, in fact even as this is written the club have just eleven senior players tied down on contract, with various trialists being tested out in pre-season friendlies.
Of the top 15 minute earners last season for the club just two are left – goalkeeper Paddy O’Neil who took the position from Connor Brennan and Dougie Hill who played the third most minutes, over 3100. Hill won the player of the season last term, and many City fans were extremely happy he decided to sign a new deal at Glebe Park – He’ll be important this season, but at 33 is not a player who you can base your long term future plans around.
So far nine players have been brought in, which includes 36 year old former Cove Rangers striker Paul McManus, 30 year old former Arbroath midfielder and 17 year old winger Olly Hamilton on loan from St Johnstone.
These are three players in particular who might be able to add real quality to City this season. All three are potentially at a quality where they might have signed for a high ranking club, but the locality of Brechin to their former/loaning club could have aided Smith in securing their signatures.
McManus has clear leadership qualities which were evident when NE98 recently watched him in a friendly against Dundee United, the way he leads from the front could very much be useful during the campaign. His goals for Cove are another clear reason to want to bring the veteran in and it was obvious from Cove supporter’s sadness at his departure that he is the kind of character you want at your club.
The attitude of Arbroath supporters towards McCord, as can be read in our preview for the Litchies, was that McCord is a player with fantastic ability that just needed game time after a difficult time with injuries. Brechin could reap the rewards from taking the gamble and giving McCord the playing time required to maximise his fitness.
Finally, Hamilton would not be getting a loan out from St Johnstone if Tommy Wright and Co didn’t think the 17 year old didn’t have a lot of talent to offer – he’s clearly reached a point where playing for the Under 18’s is below his ability, a successful side in League Two will need a mixture of youth and experience and with a decent level of experience already there in the likes of O’Neil, Hill, McCord and McManus – Hamilton will add that.
Recruitment has had to come from elsewhere other than clubs also in the SPFL system for a club like Brechin. Rebuilding a whole squad on a League Two budget won’t allow you to pluck players from the league above in their numbers.
Brechin have instead also had to find young players from the ranks below, a potentially risky strategy that could find result in a difficult start to the league season, but could pay off once the youngsters settle in.
Left-back Chris McLaughlin came in from Stirling Lions – he’s 21 – 20 year old forward Ross Crawford joins from Sauchie Juniors and 20 year old winger Fionn McLeod Kay moves from Kelty Hearts.
Everything isn’t even just restricted to Scotland, 22 year old right-back Luke Watt has come over from Croatian club NK Novigrad – he‘d initially moved there from Motherwell’s youth system last summer. He will be competing with fellow 22 year old Sean McIntosh for that position in the team, who joins from Airdrie.
The club have also just as recently as the past few days (At time of writing) recruited 19 year old former Dundee United and Falkirk defender Scoot Reekie. Plus 26 year old midfielder Ross Brown.
While the massive squad turnover does in some ways render many of the figures from last term irrelevant – due to most of the players that presented them being out of the door – the same management team does stay in place and generally manager’s and their coaching teams portray trends throughout their careers with different squads and even different clubs.
Last season goals was a bit of an issue – they scored the second least in the division – although they still had seven more than Stenhousemuir who finished just ahead of them and things were closer than you might think, another four clubs only managed 10 or less goals more than them – so it was close margins. However, the departure of Andy Jackson to Forfar Athletic does mean a lot of those goals will need to be replaced through recruitment.
Conceding goals was probably the bigger issue for City. They let in 61, which was the same as Stenhousemuir, as they both finished as the joint highest conceders. While the defence will mostly be turned-over, as a coach last season’s statistics might suggest Smith’s strong suit is not in coaching a defence.
Overall it will need to be Brechin’s main goal to get back out of League Two this season, promotion, no matter what way that happens – be it as champions or via the play-offs – is paramount. Brechin fans have been living in what can be considered a bit of their own personal hell these past few seasons, watching on as their team struggled to hardly put together a win for two years. The biggest part of this campaign for them should be to hopefully watch a winning side again, start to enjoy their Saturday afternoons in the same way they used to.