By Lewis Michie
Stenhousemuir endured somewhat of a rollercoaster ride last season, looking odds on to go straight down for so long, a Scottish Cup replay against Aberdeen after holding the Dons to a draw at Pittodrie in January reenergised Stenny who Colin McMenamin had taken charge of after the sacking of Brown Ferguson. The warriors improved a lot, enough to take them off of bottom spot, but not enough to take them further, with the team eventually being relegated via the play-offs.
Of the previous ten seasons, Stenny spent all but one (the 17/18 campaign) in the third tier of Scottish football. Just like they did in 2018, Colin McMenamin will be hoping this season that his team can make an immediate return to the division they know best.
Following the draw at Pittodrie early this year, Stenny would go on to only lose one game in the next seven in the league – a run that was crucial towards their final league positioning of ninth, just a point ahead of rock bottom Brechin City – yes the same fate met both sides, but you’d rather finish a place higher anyway. This run included beating both eventual champions Arbroath, and play-off finishers Montrose.
Following this was just two wins in eight games, which shows the difficult job Stenny had of staying consistent throughout the season – this also wasn’t helped with the Warriors racking up four red cards in the span between February and the beginning of May.
As we know in some of Scotland’s lower division, maintaining a steady squad isn’t easy – you’d ideally want to do this to build a team spirit, togetherness and familiarly, but short-term contracts disrupt this. Although Stenny might not have wanted to retain a whole raft of players involved in a relegation, the retention of the two biggest minute makers last season could be crucial to the cause. Both occupying positions at completely different ends of the pitch, goalkeeper Graeme Smith and striker Mark McGuigan – who many fans of other clubs would happily take a punt on – could be pillars of the side in League Two.
McGuigan will be unless he is tempted away from the club before the close of the transfer window, Smith started on the bench in the first league cup game, so it could be possible that McMenamin is trying to transition to a younger stopper.
However, the rest of the players making up the top five most commonly used Stenny players last season, Ruaridh Donaldson, Morgyn Neil and Alan Reid have all left. This does suggest some of the positions inbetween have undergone a bit of a shakeup.
Nine players have arrived at Ochilview this summer, and with the transfer window still having a decent period left, and some top clubs yet to loan out many of their young prospects, there is still plenty time for the club to recruit into the double figures – especially with just five listed players regarded as defenders on online database Transfermarkt, although you do tend to find a greater flexibility in position with players in the lower reaches.
In terms of recruitment thus far this summer, there are a couple of loanees so far. 17 year old winger Liam Scullion is in from Hamilton Accies, while 18 year old right-back Marky Munro has arrived from St Johnstone.
Scott McLaughlin has had plenty of clubs in Scotland – these include Hamilton, Livingston, Peterhead and most recently Edusport Academy – the 35 year old midfielder will add some experience to Stenny’s line-up this season.
Scoring goals was a big issue for Stenny last term, they scored the least in the division by far – just 35, seven worse off than Brechin City – and that was even though striker Mark McGuigan had a stellar season, netting 18 times in all competitions – all but two of them in the league.
The club has quite a few younger forward options, so they’ll be hopeful that some of them can provide a spark up top to compliment McGuigan. It also might be a thought to have a look in the loan market for a striker.
Five players shared the second top goal scorer award last season – all notching three each. Connor Duthie and Alan Cook were two of those, each play out wide and are both still with the club, so they might look to improve their output in the league below, especially Duthie who is just 21.
Two of the other second top scorers were centre-backs, Connor McBrearty returns to parent club St Mirren, although David Marsh will continue to provide a threat from set-pieces.
The other player who managed three goals was Aberdeen loanee Seb Ross – Two of them were nominated for goal of the season by the club – but it’s unlikely the Dons will look to loan out the youngster to a League Two club this term.
Conceding goals was obviously still an issue, as you’d imagine for a relegated side, but defensively the Warriors really weren’t all that much worse off than quite a few other League One sides – which is at least good to hear for Stenny fans considering they’ll be playing in the league below, where while there are still a few very dangerous strikers, there aren’t quite as many as they might have found in the third tier.
61 goals went into the Stenny net last term, the same number Brechin let in, but Stranraer only allowed four less goals, East Fife one less goal than that and Dumbarton actually only conceded one less than the two relegated teams.
What this tells you is a few tweaks to that backline could have had Stenny operating at the back with a mid-table League One level performance. Adding that to a goal machine like McGuigan and things get quite encouraging.
That would be the case if it wasn’t for the fact Stenny have faced somewhat of a back-line rebuild.
Of that defensive unit we know Graeme Smith remains at the club, although Kyle Marley was the one to play against Dundee United in the League Cup recently. The most used left-back Donaldson has left of course, as has most used right-back Alan Reid and most used centre-back Morgyn McNeil.
After Smith the player with the most minutes last season in the back-line for Stenny still at the club is Andy Munro, he played just over 1500 minutes.
So while you’d expect Mark McGuigan to slam in the goals at one end for McMenamin’s side in 19/20, it’s a little harder to predict how things will go at the other end, as it’s a bit more of an unknown quantity.
For a club who will be spending just their second season out of the last ten in the fourth tier of Scottish football, the ambition for Stenhousemuir this season should be abundantly clear – make the jump back up to League One.
That is clearly much easier said than done, League Two appears like it could be the most competitive division in the SPFL in 19/20, it’s not going to be an easy one to predict, that’s for sure. However, Stenny appear to be the bookies fourth favourite for the title and there is a clear reasoning for that, they’ve got a proven goalscorer and they’ve got experience escaping League Two.