By Lewis Michie
Stranraer have spent eight seasons in Scotland’s third tier – last season finishing in eighth, five points clear of the relegation play-off spot – this season Stephen Farrell will be looking to make sure if that is to change next season that they’ll be gaining promotion to League One as opposed to falling down a level.
One thing that Stranraer have going their way is consistency, it pretty much surrounds the entire club. From those eight seasons spent in the same division, to having the same manager in charge since 2017 even Stranraer’s squad is full of familiar faces, at least in comparison to many other clubs at the third and fourth tier level.
Many similar clubs to Stranraer will be performing complete turnovers in their playing squads this summer, meanwhile at Stair Park , half of the top ten minute earners will still be around next season, including all but one of the top five most active Blue’s players last season – with young starlet Kyle Turner having departed.
Goalkeeper Max Currie sticks around, as does midfielder Connor McManus, right-back Jamie Hamill and centre back Adam Cummins – giving Farrell a decent core of players together – with a mix of experience and youth in there.
There is clear evidence that Stranraer will need to work on a few things this season however, only Stenhousemuir and Brechin scored less than the Blues last term – meanwhile those two and Dumbarton were the only sides to concede more. The issue here of course is that with Stenny and City leaving the league, Farrell would need to hope that Clyde and Peterhead who replaced the two fair just as badly – which certainly wouldn’t look a guarantee. Or of course they could hope other teams regress, although the league does look like a lot of sides will be going the other way this term.
Of players left in the squad for this season, the highest scorers from last season are Hamill, McManus and Cummins – who all scored just two each. Of course this isn’t exactly shameful numbers for those players, but it does show that the scorers from last season who outscored them have departed – all six of them.
Top scorer Innes Cameron has returned to parent club Kilmarnock after scoring 10 times, Kyle Turner joined Dunfermline Athletic, he grabbed eight from midfield, Grant Anderson who scored seven has joined league rivals Raith Rovers, as did loanee Joao Vitoria who scored four times. Luke Donnelly scored five before joining Arbroath in January, although Celtic loanee PJ Crossan who notched three goals has been released by the Premiership Champions – so he could potentially be a target.
Farrell will have already have started to try and line up some players to replace his goals from last season – and again, as most managers at this level do, he’s utilised the loan market.
Mark Stewart was with Stirling Albion until Febuary, he only played 13 times, but did manage to score three times and assist another goal. It would appear injuries created issues, and at 31 the striker probably won’t be given long to make his mark.
Kyle Turner will prove very difficult to replace, but Carlo Pignatiello has come in on loan from Livingston, the loan market has also been used to recruit David Dagana on loan from Aberdeen – he’s a real handful up top and has previously appeared on the bench for Derek Mcinnes.
21 year old winger James Hilton has come in from Ayr United, he joins a decent sized group of younger players at Stairs Park. The squad has six players 21 and under, and another eight under the age of 30. The likes of the afore mentioned Stewart and former Hearts and Kilmarnock man Jamie Hamill – who captains the team.
Aspirations for Stranraer, similarly to every club in League One this season, will be to move forward rather than backwards. Of course backwards for the blues could see them drop a division – which after so long consolidating in the third tier, would be a disaster.
Another season in League One might feel a bit boring to supporters, they’d love to push for promotion, just like any fans in the division. However, the loss of Turner and rebuilding the whole attack would suggest they might be thankful for even just improving their positioning in the table this season – even if it isn’t as far as into the top four.