Interview: Darvel Manager Michael Kennedy

We recently caught up with Darvel manager Michael Kennedy to speak about the buzz around the club’s recent signings and much more. You can listen to Kennedy’s full interview with Lewis Michie below, or read it further down the page:

Twitter was buzzing this weekend with debate around the signings Darvel have been making as of late. They’ve just gained promotion to the Premier Division of the West of Scotland League – one tier down from the Lowland League.

However, they’ve added Ian McShane from Falkirk, left-back Jordan Allan from Stranraer and Jordan Kirkpatrick comes in from Forfar Athletic.

Kennedy says it was mostly positive and they aren’t too worried about any negative reaction:

“When we started to look at recruitment back round about December, January, we always knew there’d be a few names in there that could cause an uproar. Positive as well to be fair, I think 90% of the reaction has been positive.”

We also spoke to the Darvel gaffer about the type of signings the club have looked to get, why they’ve targeted the players they have, and if more incomings are possible:

“We are trying to bring players in from a level above, in the prime age of their career. I wasn’t really expecting the reaction we’ve had over the last few days.

If you look at the recruitment so far – even the boys we’ve brought in from this level as well – all really gifted football players who’ve had impressive careers to this point. One of the important things is their age, we are always really cautious that we set out a robust recruitment plan – we wanted to build a squad that is capable of staying together for a few years.

I think there is maybe potentially room for one or two others. Right now we are fairly settled, we’ve spoken to one or two targets that obviously didn’t work out. Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty for part-time footballers right now, and maybe in the next three-four weeks we will have a better idea landscape-wise.”

While structural change has been impossible in the SPFL in recent years, a lot is changing directly below the pyramid. The Lowland League now has promotion and relegation, linking to the new West of Scotland and East of Scotland set-ups, made up of former Junior teams.

Kennedy feels these changes have benefited the game overall:

“The difference now with the new league structure is when you’re sitting down with players and discussing a vision then they can see a bit of a journey. We can now maybe go through a couple of leagues. That’s an important part in selling the club.”

Of course Darvel are one of the club’s benefiting from these changes the most, moving up a division already, and many are now tipping them to gain promotion to the Lowland League this year, and according to Kennedy, that’s what they hope to do:

“There was a three year plan always in place when I came in. The plan this year is ultimately to try and win the division and progress in to the Lowland League. Everyone is aware how difficult that could be with the quality of the opposition but that’s the aspiration.”

Darvel, just like many other clubs, still don’t know when their 20/21 season will kick-off. Nonetheless, it’s sure to be an interesting one from the club – NE98 wishes Michael and everyone at Darvel luck for the season, whenever it gets underway.

And if you feel like a trip to Ayrshire to have a look at the team everyone has their eyes on when the season does eventually get underway, what kind of football can you expect? Here’s what Kennedy told us:

“I think anybody that knows myself and has worked alongside me would tell you we look to set out to dominate the ball and set high demands for our players and expect high energy.”

Sassuolo: Part 2

We’ve been going back to take a look at the season so far for Serie A side Sassuolo. In Part One we looked up until the end of September, and now today we will recap October, November and December. 

Form

Roberto De Zerbi’s side started the season very much sitting in mid-table, showing inconsistent results – with plenty of goals at both ends. By the end of 2019 things looked pretty similar for the Neroverdi as they sat in 13th place, 10 points away from any European places, and 5 clear of the relegation zone.

Sassuolo results 2

In the last three months of the year they had 3 wins, 4 draws and 4 loses (the final 2-1 loss to Napoli not included in screenshot).

17 goals conceded in that time shows the defensive issues in the first half of the season for Sassuolo. For the season as a whole at this point they’d let in 29 goals, with two other sides also conceding the same amount and two other teams allowing more. So a relegation battle esc defense, but only six other sides had scored more goals than  Sassuolo’s 29 scored – the same six teams who also occupied every European spot.

The Manager – Roberto De Zerbi

Having not known a whole lot about Roberto De Zerbi before this, we’ve started with a clean slate. In a word, De Zerbi is ‘flexible’ – and that’s both positive and negative.

He is able to adapt his tactics and formation to fit certain situations, like a different opponent or the changing landscape throughout a game.

Roberto De Zerbi
Global Sport

However, he also chops and changes the team – often without much reason – to a frustrating amount. At different points in the season it becomes clear certain players are working and others aren’t, but in the case of someone like Jeremie Boga it took his manager a while to begin to trust him with consistent starts. While persisting with Gregoire Defrel who was not producing.

Even by the end of 2019 De Zerbi has tried four different players in the left-back position, unable to pick a favorite. The likes of Hamed Junior Traore, Filip Djuricic and Manuel Loccatelli have impressed when given time but continue to not consistently get minutes, be dropped after a decent performance and be replaced by the likes of Mehdi Bourabia, Pedro Obiang and Alfred Duncan all of whom have not shown as much talent since the beginning of the season.

While it does not seem at this point there is even one suitable centre-half at the club, nevermind two, it doesn’t help that the manager continues to rotate between five players in that area. Allowing two players to adept to find a partnership would be a better bet at this point.

Goalkeeper 

Andrea Consigli is the obvious first choice in the team. He doesn’t stand out as being exceptional, but he also isn’t a liability. Towards the end of 2019 an injury to Consigli allowed some game time for 18-year-old Stefano Turati and 39-year-old Gianluca Pegolo.

Turati had a fantastic performance against Juventus, but did make a goal costing mistake in the next fixture, but he still seems a potential future star.

Defenders 

Right-back at this point is nailed down by Dortmund loanee Jeremy Toljan, he’s got a lot to offer going forward and the right side is far less often the source of dangerous attacks. 21-year-old Mert Mulder is playing the back-up, but at such a young age does look promising.

Centre-back continues to jump between the likes of Vlad Chiriches, Marlon, Gian Marco Ferrari, Filippo Romagna and occasionally Federico Peluso. No one sticks out as being particularly impressive, but giving a partnership a chance to blossom with consistent game time would be the best bet, two of Marlon, Romagna and Ferrari would probably be our choice.

Federico Peluso started off as the first choice left-back when the season began, but he was often caught out. De Zerbi had 22-year-old Brazilian Regerio, Georgios Kyriakopoulos and young Italian Alessandro Tripaldelli to pick from to replace him. He’s jumped between them all, and at this point doesn’t seem any closer to finding a full-time preference. Kyriakopoulos is the most impressive so far, but sticking with any of the three would produce better results than never letting anyone settle.

Midfielders

Switching between a 4-3-3 and 4-3-2-1 has produced a bit of variety in the centre of the field. Often the same players can be used in both systems, just obviously switching up their roles a bit.

Captain Francesco Magnanelli returned to fitness in October. At 35, he’s not the most mobile but he does bring some control, patience and balance to an area which is often surrounded by players far younger than him.

20-year-old Traore, Serbian  Djuricic and Ex Ac Milan player Locatelli are all interesting players to have in the centre of the field, and while it would be interesting to see all three play together, that would potentially leave an already lacking defense exposed, so Magananelli is important for balance.

Pedro Obiang and Alfred Duncan also still have on-and-off appearances for Sassuolo, but as the games go on it becomes apparent the other three are producing better performances.

Djuricic and Traore are both fairly attacking intent players. The younger Traore is quicker and dribbles more often, while 28-year-old Djuricic is more of a threat from shots around the area. Both are versatile and can play as a ’10’ or slightly deeper, and both are far more creative and cultured with their passing than other midfielder in the squad.

Locatelli takes a deeper position than the other two, but he’s a bit of an all rounder. His passing range is very good, he covers a lot of ground and can pick his moments to get further forward than his usual. He could do with getting a bit more involved with tackling, especially if playing in a team without the caution of Maganelli.

Forwards

After a frustrating beginning to the season where ex-Chelsea winger Jeremie Boga couldn’t get consistent game time, despite obvious talent, he’s become one of the key figures in the side.

Boga, at 23 years old, appears to have real ability to become a top player. Despite only really having three proper first team seasons up until this point, with loans of varying success at Granada, Stade Rennais and Birmingham City, Boga shows not just talent, but importantly an end product and consistency.

Without a doubt, Boga’s ability to throw a game into life with direct running, and incredibly quick feet, is his best trait. He’s able to on a consistent basis end these runs with a shot on goal or a cross, rather than dribbling for the sake of it, he does it with a real purpose.

Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo are normally the other two parts of the front three, and both also look quite convincing. Berardi is still the biggest star at Sassuolo and  despite injuries he had a productive first half of the season, but probably not quite up to his high standards. Caputo is a reliable striker in his early 30’s, picking up poacher style goals and utilising his hold up play.

Forecast for the rest of the season

For the Neroverdi to properly kick on for the season past the turn of the year they’d clearly need to improve the backline. The January transfer window could be a big opportunity to do that, and a back up striker could be of use as well.

It’s unlikely they’ll challenge for Europe but they need some solid results in January to pull away from any potential relegation battle.

In the next update we will look at all of the games from the new year up until the season was interrupted due to covid-19.

Before finally covering all the post-break games at the end of the season.

Is Jonny Hayes a good signing for Aberdeen,or a nostalgia clouded mistake?

Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing, but it can sometimes cloud decision making. Pretty much any Aberdeen supporter will tell you Jonny Hayes is of the clubs’ players of the last decade – in fact, even with three years at Celtic, he might have been the very best in a red shirt in the past ten years.

It’s all but done as this piece is written, Hayes will come back to Pittodrie to build on 206 appearances in all competitions, his first goal back under Derek Mcinnes would be his 31st for the club, and he was previously even more dangerous setting others up than scoring himself.

In his five year spell in the granite city the Irishman lifted one trophy – the League Cup in 2014. He very nearly helped the Dons lift the Scottish Cup in his final game before moving to Celtic, scoring the opener against his soon-to-be new teammates, before Tom Rogic broke hearts. A miscommunication between Hayes and Kenny McLean – by mere inches – could have been the difference that day.

The thing with Hayes in his spell with Aberdeen, is he built up one hell of a highlight reel. Several goals against Celtic spring to mind – he always saved the screamers for them – and there were none much better than the peach that broke Fraser Forster’s streak of not conceding a goal. The image of the winger bursting into the box and pulling the ball back for Adam Rooney to score is pretty much etched into the minds of Aberdeen supporters.

He was always far more than just that highlight reel though, Hayes often swapped around different positions for Derek Mcinnes, was one of the harder working players in the squad, and his pace was unmatched.

Two questions come up for most Aberdeen fans when considering if Hayes returning is a sensible decision. Is he still that same player? and what position will he play on the pitch?

The Irishman is most well known as a winger, but of course he did play at left-back on occasion in his previous spell at Pittodrie, and was used there – or as a wing-back – more often than anywhere else last season by Celtic.

Greg Leigh’s loan deal ended with little suggestion the Dons were going to activate the buy clause – as was initially suggested before the virus. Youngster Jack Mackenzie plays as a left-back, and he may have an opportunity in 20/21 to get some minutes, be he won’t be first choice. Andy Considine is still there and like a moth to a flame, he seems to always return to that left sided spot. Even though fans prefer to see him centrally, with Ash Taylor, Scott McKenna and Michael Devlin all filling centre-back roles, Derek Mcinnes is probably likely to see more benefit of Considine at left-back and Hayes as a winger.

If Hayes does play further forward, that is where the question of ‘Is he really the same player?’ becomes important. There is a lot more to his game than pace, but it certainly is a big advantage. Pace is exactly what Aberdeen lacked last season – among other things – and that did seem to improve after the January signing of Matty Kennedy from St Johnstone, but it did often feel like he was the sole producer of that burst of running.

Some have assumed that at 33, Hayes is bound to have lost that pace, but it didn’t look like it last season and while he might lose a foot race to Kennedy, he’d probably beat most of the rest of the Aberdeen squad.

The issue with playing Hayes there is that it almost certainly forces at least one player out of the club, or onto the fringes. Matty Kennedy will be up there near first choice, as will Hayes, and Niall McGinn remains a stalwart in Derek Mcinnes teams as he continues to produce better goal and assist numbers than his competitors year-on-year.

Hayes-McGinn
BBC Sport

Derek Mcinnes will have Ryan Hedges, Connor McLennan, Scott Wright and Ethan Ross to pick from. Ethan Ross is still much younger than most other in this conversation and his loan with Dunfermline was cut short in 19/20. He’s likely to have another loan or pick up minutes where he can get them next term.

Scott Wright was unlucky to pick up a serious knee injury when he did last season. He seemed to have found an uptick in a season where many predicted it was make or break for him. The desire he has shown in getting back fit, and the fact he looked very handy – possibly even more effective – in a number 10 role, will probably be enough to see him included in the rotation.

Numbers-wise that could mean departures for both Ryan Hedges and Connor McLennan, but realistically with a few injury prone players in the position, it’s probably only one that will head for the exit. Many Aberdeen fans will worry that man is Ryan Hedges. Despite showing some interesting qualities and decent numbers last season, Mcinnes never seemed to fancy him, and his wage is likely to be a bigger saving.

Ryan Hedges
News-Line Media

McLennan has always shown flashes, and he’s still young, but some Aberdeen fans became frustrated at his level of predictability and lack of end product last season. But of course, those are common issue in younger players.

So then, will Hayes work as a winger? At least enough to justify potentially letting one of Ryan Hedges or Connor McLennan leave?

At 33, it will always be a risk. You won’t have him long term, but with some younger players at Pittodrie ready to step up in a year or two, that might not be a concern for the Dons, they just need a here and now type of guy.

With his pace still intact, and an already established relationship on the pitch with the likes of McGinn and Considine, you have to feel he can be a very effective signing – with two qualifiers for that.

Firstly, he will need to manage to find the link with the likes of Dylan Mceouch and Lewis Ferguson as he had with Graeme Shinnie & Kenny McLean, and with Sam Cosgrove as he found with Adam Rooney.

Secondly, he has got to stay fit. Throughout his time at both Aberdeen and Celtic, Hayes only ever had one long injury lay-off, and that was his broken leg in his first season at Celtic Park. However, he often did pick up injuries that woreturnuld see him miss 4-6 games at a time. With multiple injuries to both his knee and hamstring. These of course often get worse as a player ages and while Hayes retention of pace and general fitness can help with that, it will be a worry.

What do Aberdeen supporters think?

To conclude, the likelihood is Hayes probably will more often than not play as a winger, and the odds would suggest that he will at least be useful in that area. Staying fit could prove to be the big decider in how this signing is seen by the time Hayes leaves Aberdeen for a second time.

 

Football Manager: Taking Brechin City from the foot of League Two to the Premiership Part 2

Brechin FM 1

A week has gone by in real time but my first season at the helm of Brechin City has come to an end in Football Manager (FM). It was a season full of ups and downs but sadly it was a year of disappointment.

The first game of the season would give me some false hope with a decent 2-0 win over Annan. Both of my strikers, Andy Jackson and Connor Higgins, got on the scoresheet. Wins would be a rarity during the season. A goalless draw with Albion Rovers followed then it was time for the Tunnocks Wafer Cup. We got absolutely thrashed by Peterhead even though we dominated a majority of the game. The Blue Toons 4-1 victory meant that we were knocked out another cup competition.

1

After thrashing we put in a decent run of 2 draws and 2 wins with the highlight being a 2-1 win against Edinburgh City. Striker Higgins scored again for us and midfielder McCabe, who is by far my star player, also got his name on the scoresheet. A dominant 4-1 win against Cowdenbeath kicked off this decent run of form. 2 draws with Queens Park and Elgin City concluded the 4 game undefeated streak.

2

We then went three games without a win. A goalless draw with Queens Park was followed by two 2-0 losses to Cove Rangers and Stirling. Facing significantly weaker opposition in the Scottish cup 2nd round offered us the chance to put a halt to our poor run of form. Edinburgh University were our opponents and we easily shrugged  them aside.

3

This win kickstarted a very short run of good form but this quickly came to a screeching stop. A 3-1 defeat at the hands of Edinburgh City began a four game losing streak. The most humiliating defeat was a 4-2 disaster against bottom side Cowdenbeath. This losing streak was the moment I realised winning the league would be impossible. Getting a play-off spot would be considered a fantastic achievement at this point.

4

A win against Queen’s Park was followed by a mixed run of form. Two losses to Stirling and Cove Rangers meant the hopes of a play-off spot were slim. Three wins meant we were holding onto a play-off spot by a thread. The wins against Stenhousemuir, Annan and Cowdenbeath meant we were 5th with 16 games to go. Next came a five game losing streak which dashed all hopes of promotion. The worst defeat came against league leaders Stirling. Stirling pummeled us 4-0 which pretty much doomed the club to another season in League 2.

5

I only won three of the final eleven games which really shows that the side weren’t ready for the step up to League 1.  Stirling were shock winners of the league holding a 15 point lead over Edinburgh City. Queens Park finished 3rd but were promoted via the play-offs defeating Stranraer in the final meaning they dropped down to League 2. Forfar finished last in League 1 meaning another decent side were now competing in League 2. We finished 6th place with 12 wins, 8 draws and 16 losses. We were 11 points off Cove Rangers who held the last play-off position.

6

For this challenge I can’t afford to spend a third season in League 2 so it was time for a major player overhaul. My main goal for next season is to completely dominate the league with the aim of automatic promotion.

New Huntly manager Allan Hale on his new job, meeting the squad via video chat and his career thus far.

Huntly - Allan Hale
Colin Smith

Taking over as a manager at a new club is a massive task, doing so during the middle of a global pandemic is another thing entirely. Highland League football Club Huntly have moved to bring in Allan Hale as their new gaffer, NE98 caught up with him about his new job.

“I would have loved nothing more than meeting the players face to face within a training session and getting straight to work however I’ve spoken to them all individually and will continue to do so, by whatever possible method, until we get the green light from the authorities to return.”

It could be a long wait for Allan Hale before he finally manages his first Huntly game in the Highland League – we’ve only just worked out when the Scottish Premiership will return, so it could be a while before those in control decide, or are allowed, to bring the leagues further down the pyramid back into the fold.

At 32-year-old Hale hasn’t done a whole lot of waiting in his career. Working his way up through the amateur ranks to play for Fraserburgh in his first taste of the Highland League. It would be at just 24-years-old when Hale would first try his hand at management though, becoming player-manager at Junior side Maud. A successful couple of years lead to a subsequent pair of years in his first Highland League coaching role with Keith.

Since leaving Keith in the Summer of 2017 Hale has had a return to Maud, as well as taking a chance at getting back on the pitch with amateur team Bellslea Bar, and then in the combined role of player-assistant manager at Fraserburgh United, the town’s junior outfit.

Having spent so much time in the North East end of Aberdeenshire, moving to Keith meant heading further into the centre of the country, venturing into Moray, he’ll return to a similar area with Huntly, just 10 miles south from his previous Highland League venture.

Hale has built up some significant range of experience in his career thus far, and with that experience comes learning curves and chances to develop.

Hale says he’s been learning throughout his career, and that has all helped build what he can offer the supporters at Christie Park.

“My personal opinion is that as a manager you will constantly make mistakes whether that be through training sessions, recruitment, team selection, tactical decisions and so forth however as you gain more experience and mature within the role those mistakes become less.

What’s important to me is that as a manager you need to self reflect and understand when mistakes have been made and what lessons can be learned to lessen them for the future.”

There will be plenty of time for Hale to reflect on his career thus far while he waits for the new league season to kick-off, and that will also mean ample time for Huntly to plot how they will approach the campaign.

Although Hale has already formed some aims for his new role, he’s taking over at a club that had sat 12th in the division before action was halted.

“Initially I think its important to be realistic with expectations. Due to COVID the majority of clubs will have cut their cloth accordingly financially to ensure clubs get by this period without the projected income that would have been expected to have been generated with the remaining fixtures and fundraising events etc that were cancelled during COVID.

For me its important that we improve year on year as, to me, that’s signs of progress but long term we want to be competing for silverware and competing at the top end of the Highland League.”

Our final question for Allan was a simple one, ‘Why Huntly?’ and what made the club the right step for his at this time?

“I see Huntly as a club that has huge potential. For example the squad has an average age within the low-mid 20s therefore as they gain more experience and exposure to the league they will develop well before their peak which will only benefit the club in the long term. The board, from discussions, are also ambitious and they want to see their club regularly competing in the top half of the Highland League therefore for me it was an excellent opportunity and one I was delighted to accept.”