By Lewis Michie
Last season, at least for large portions of the campaign, Edinburgh City looked likely to head up to the third tier of Scottish football. As the first side, and only side until this summer, to progress up through the pyramid play-offs in Scotland, this would have been a fantastic achievement for City. Things unravelled in the end for the side managed by James McDonaugh, but there are still plenty of football fans tipping the citizens to regroup and challenger again this term.
We spoke to City fan Boab Fallon (@BoabyLuv16 on Twitter – best twitter handle of the supporters helping out with these articles by the way)
When the regular season came to a close in 18/19 many may have been wondering how Edinburgh City didn’t win League Two, or even finish second, instead falling to third place. In reality a lot of things came together to lead to this, Peterhead just didn’t let up, Clyde had an incredible second half of the campaign and City’s small squad struggled with injuries and burnout leading to no wins in the last five regular matches and three loses in a row to lead into the play-offs. It was then no shock when they were knocked out of the play-off in the semi-finals by Clyde – it was a bridge too far, at least for now.
Boab felt the season overall was a success, he said:
Despite a bit of a bittersweet end, after the blistering start, it would be churlish to say anything other than last season was relatively successful. If you’d given us a playoff spot and a penalty shoot-out away from a national cup final, we’d have snapped your hand off. It defied all of our expectations and the Gaffer’s initial plan for the season.”
This season the citizens will kick off their campaign at the league’s newest stadium – Balmoral stadium on the outskirts of Aberdeen – as they face Cove Rangers.
When trying to get a feel of how a league campaign might pan out, many turn to the bookies for a tip or two on who the favourites are. If you’re one of those people, you will probably already know that at least according to the odds, this could be an opening fixture with title altering consequences, City and Cove are the two favourites for the trophy.
A big reason to get behind City is of course their manager, James McDonaugh has received plenty of praise in the past year. Although, if you were to ask people around the country to name an Edinburgh City player, those who could would probably give you the name Blair Henderson.
Henderson put away 38 goals last season in his over 4000 minutes played. Put simply, Henderson was the jewel in City’s crown and the biggest signature McDonaugh has secured this summer is Henderson’s on a contract extension – the 23 year old was wanted by numerous clubs, but for a variety of reasons including a desire to focus on his studies, the striker has stayed put.
So Ainslie Park will retain its biggest asset this season, and McDonaugh likely entered the off-season hoping he could retain plenty more of his best and most trusted players, tweak things slightly by bringing in some extra bodies and make a go at the title again.
That is exactly what has happened, with all but one of the ten most used players staying put this season. The only one to leave was 20 year old Graham Taylor, the winger departs for Cowdenbeath and he actually played the least minutes of the top ten.
You can see there was a reliance last season on the same core group of players because just 15 players made up over 1000 minutes of game time, and only a further three made it over 500 minutes.
Of these players who clocked up into the four figures of minutes, just Gareth Rodger joins Taylor in departing the club. This of course meant that McDonaugh would need to recruit at least two new players to return to the way the club was run last season in terms of number of players, but it will come as no surprise that he has looked to add depth, recruiting six players this summer.
Boab did feel as though McDonaugh would require some depth signings this summer, saying:
Recruitment has, on the face of it, looked fairly good. We’ve retained the core of last year’s team and added depth, something that was needed after the (fairly small) squad was running on empty/injured and effectively ended our title challenge last year.”
These additions basically cover every area of the pitch, there is a goalkeeper, a centre-back, a full-back, a central midfielder, a winger and a striker.
City scored 58 goals in the league last season, that’s a decent chunk lower than any other side who managed to finish in the top four – and Blair Henderson scored 30 of them – so a clear objective in the window would have been to try and bring through another player who could score more often and take some pressure off of Henderson. You’d imagine it will be tough for the 24 year old to continue to make a similar contribution in terms of goals and minutes played for a second consecutive season.
Another 23 year old has been tasked with that job, and that is Jonny Court who arrives from East Fife, Court only scored twice for the Bayview outfit last season, but he will certainly add depth and at 23 has plenty of room to grow.
24 year old winger Alex Harris could also be able to provide more goals, be it via scoring them or assisting them. The former Hibs man joins from York City – he’s had success in the Scottish Championship before, so could be lethal in the fourth tier.
Unfortunately for the Citizens, talented midfielder Andy Black is out for a prolonged period through injury. So the addition of another 23 year old, Jordan Sinclair from Brechin City, should plug that gap in the meantime alongside former Aberdeen loanee, and captain of City, Josh Walker.
23 is clearly a popular age in the city dressing room, Callum Crane comes in from Livi, and he is also just 23, he mostly plays at left-back. He is joined in the defensive unit by a couple of other signings, 26 year old Chris Kane also joins from East Fife and goalkeeper Ryan Adamson was recruited from Burntisland Shipyard.
Age is fairly on the side of City as well, only three players are age 30 or over and ten are 24 or under – including some key players like Black and Henderson.
Defensively City were fairly solid last season, conceding just 31 times which was just two more than the divisions best defence in Peterhead. Additions to that back-line alongside existing goalkeeper Calum Antell and centre-backs Liam Henderson and Conrad Balatoni could see those numbers even improve.
Boad was pretty happy with the signings made at Ainslie Park this summer, he told us:
There’s a great deal of experience been added, and the Gaffer has used his contacts to bring the likes of Alex Harris and Callum Crane to the club. For many, though, the best piece of business will be re-signing Blair Henderson after last season’s exploits, though he’s still to return from full fitness after injury last season.”
He does feel as well that there could potentially still be more signings to come, saying:
We perhaps still lack a bit of width, on both sides, a back-up right back and back-up for last season’s Supporters Club POTY, Andrew Black (out until at least December). His dynamism and willingness to roll up his sleeves has been sorely missed.”
After flirting with promotion last term, that will surely be the goal again for City this season. Obviously if it has to come through the play-offs then so be it, but this side with its defensive solidity and lethal striker has all the makings of a potential league winner.
Boab knows that another run at the title, or even finishing in the play-off spots again would be success, he said:
The playoffs. The key is getting what was a tight knit squad to gel with the new arrivals, whilst managing a bigger squad and giving them gametime. Both a positive and a negative of last season was having a settled 11 – positive in that the unit knew who did what and thrived; negative in that there were no replacements when someone was injured. How the Gaffer manages all of this effectively will go a long way to determining our league position.”
Overall, Edinburgh City should really be right up there challenging for the title this season and despite Cove being made favourites by most bookies, we’d probably be backing City over any other team in the division to have their hands on the trophy come the end of the campaign, and it wouldn’t be any great shock to see Henderson walk away with another top goalscorer award either.