Feature: Season Preview – Cowndenbeath

By Lewis Michie 

Cowdenbeath finished last season in sixth place in League Two. While that may seem to many a less than ideal finish to the season, it followed two consecutive bottom of the table finishes, where both times Cowden had to win a play-off to stay in the division. The two seasons before that weren’t much better either with two consecutive relegations. To say the least, it has been a painful few years for Blue Brazil fans, but Gary Bollan has at least improved things in the 18/19 campaign and provided building blocks for this season.

We spoke to loyal Blue Brazil follower Kyle Ewan (@Kyleewan on Twitter) to get his thoughts ahead of the new campaign.

In all reality Cowdenbeath were in their own little mini league along with Stirling Albion – who finished four points ahead in fifth – Queen’s Park and Elgin City – both of whom finished on the same amount of points and were behind Bollan’s side on goal difference. Meanwhile, the bottom two of Albion Rovers and Berwick Rangers were cut fairly adrift and the top four pulled away.

Kyle felt that last term was certainly an improvement over what Cowdenbeath had managed in the previous few campaigns,

Last season was our best season so far since we have been in league 2”

For any side in League Two this season the bare minimum ambition has got to be to try and get into that top four and secure a play-off spot, and some might even feel they can push for the league title. From finishing bottom twice, to sixth, to winning the title would be quite some achievement and while we wouldn’t rule it out for anyone in the division, Cowden are probably best off just looking at that top four and not getting carried away for now.

The league could be very competitive this season, Berwick have been replaced by a far stronger Cove Rangers side and Peterhead and Clyde have been promoted just to be replaced by Stenhousemuir and Brechin City who at best are probably as good as those two sides, but don’t have the consistent couple of seasons building towards a league challenge in the fourth tier that those two did.

All this comes together to mean it’s anyone’s game to go and win, so any little advantage could be crucial for sides this year. One advantage we’ve mentioned often – and for good reason – is stability. Coming into the season with a core squad to build around where you already know what you will get from them and adding key pieces to improve is a lot better than completing a proper re-build – as a few sides have done in League Two.

Of the ten most used players for Blue Brazil last season, only two have left Central Park. 37 year old goalkeeper David McGurn who has gone to Raith Rovers and Robbie Deas who’s loan deal from Celtic has come to an end. This means Bollan has a large degree of stability to build around and with one 37 and the other a Celtic loanee, it’s doubtful he has betting on either McGurn or Deas being here this season anyway.

Cowden managed to score 46 times in the league last season, only Elgin City managed more of the sides who  finished outside the top four – and they had a significantly worse off defence. That said, Cowden were still 12 off of the lowest scorers in the play-off spots – Edinburgh City. So adding some goals this season could help them make that push. Although again, many feel the quality of the league will be down, but the competition up this season, so less goals might be required to earn a play-off spot anyway.

Top goalscorer last season was David Cox with 13 and at 29, you wouldn’t be predicting him to slow down just yet. 28 year old Jordyn Sheerin scored 9, he’s still at Central Park, as did Jordan Allan who is also still with the Blue Brazil and is only 19. Both of these strikers hit these numbers with in Allan’s case just over 1.5k minutes and Sheerin’s only 200 over 1k minutes – so those two along with Cox could have plenty more goals in them.

Defensively Cowden were very much middle of the road, the bottom three conceded far more than them, Queen’s Park let in one more, Stirling Albion one less and the top four again had better numbers by some distance.

Of course part of the issue is not only improving on those stats, but also replacing their goalkeeper and second most used centre-back from last season.

Kyle has personally been excited by the recruitment, telling NE98 that the arrival of some good young talent is especially uplifting:

This season’s recruitment has been doing better than last season bringing in some talented young players and also older players who can read the from the top tables”

There have been a number of recruits in the back-line. Polish goalkeeper Maciej Dabrowski arrives on loan from Hibernian, but at least in the first team squad, he doesn’t have a clear back-up. 18 year old Macallan Whyte took up a seat on the bench in recent game against Dundee United and it’s likely Bollan would want a more experienced back-up, but his budget might prevent that happening.

It’s important before looking at the rest of the defensive recruits to note that in two of the three games we were able to obtain formation info for in the league cup this season, Cowden used a 5 at the back style formation – although they can also use a flat back four.

Two 16 year olds have arrived from the Fife Elite Football Academy which feeds players into Cowden, East Fife, Raith Rovers and Dunfermline. So these are basically promotions from the youth team, with Ross Pollock and Jacob Glass arriving in defence, another 16 year old Lewis Owens has been recruited for the midfield.

18 year old left-back Euan Valentine has also arrived from Raith Rovers. It’s Craig Barr who comes in from Dumbarton at the age of 32 – After just under 2000 minutes in League Two last season – who is likely to make the most immediate impact.

Barr did not feature against United, but he was used in the 3-5-2 set-up on the opening day of the group stages against East Fife. He was joined by 25 year old Jamie Pyper – who was the most used centre-back last term – and 24 year old Jamie Todd in the centre, with Dabrowski behind them. Fraser Mullen who got the most minutes of any Blue Brazil player last season played right wing-back, with 23 year old Robbie Buchanan on the other side.

The game against United saw the use of a similar system, but with Barr unavailable new signing Mikey Herd was drafted in and 21 year old Graeme Taylor played wide left with Buchanan moving centrally.

Taylor is a new recruit from Edinburgh City, He played over 3000 minutes last season and got 2 goals and 7 assists. The other recruit joining he and Herd in midfield is 20 year old Archie Thomas who has joined from Dundee United. He started in the opening league cup game and against former side United right in the centre of the midfield.

No further recruits have come in further forward, as we touched upon earlier, there is depth and plenty scoring ability already there.

Against United Thomas, Buchannan and Kyle Miller operated as the midfield three and it was David Cox – the captain – and Kris Renton up top.

Renton scored four goals in a larger sample size of that in which Allan and Sheerin notched nine last season. Both Allan and Sheerin have settled for places on the bench in the league cup, which might surprise a few, although there could be plenty of reasons for this. Renton does appear from his assist numbers to be a better creator than the other two, and potentially links better with chief scorer Cox, but of course we don’t know the fitness levels of Sheerin and Allan for these games so won’t judge that decision yet.

A limited budget could prevent further signings, but Kyle told us he’d still like on more specifically, saying:

We could be doing with another midfielder who is strong and can hold the play”

As we touched upon, most sides in League Two this season will be disappointed and likely thinking about a change at the top if they don’t finish in the top four, or for some sides, at least push for it and don’t become adrift at the bottom. Cowdenbeath are no different and have players with the potential to score goals, so should be aiming for that top four.

Kyle is certainly optimistic ahead of the 19/20 campaign:

I Could see us having a chance of winning the league or winning the play offs to get to league 1”

Overall, we won’t say Cowden are guarantees for the play-off spots, but they will certainly challenge and the extent of that challenge could depend on 1. The form of Cox and 2. At least one other player joining him in the double figures club. A league title would at least appear on paper to be a bridge too far with the strength of some of the opposition, but to continue the slow progress Blue Brazil have had over the past year, they’ve really got to get into that top four at all costs – their loyal supporters have suffered enough.

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