The afterthought of Scottish football this season will be the two leagues below the Scottish Championship.
That is richly undeserved since two full-time sides will be duking it out for the title in League One, while League Two has added vibrancy via the invent of the relegation playoffs for the team finishing bottom of the Scottish league pile.
Regrettably, I’ve not had the time to cover these two divisions in the manner that I would wish. However, just to whet your appetite, here are four signings (two from each division) that have been made this summer that should have an impact on their respective leagues.
Should you wish to read more from the lower leagues then check out the previous transfer blog:
Andrew Barrowman to Greenock Morton
The premier narrative in this season’s League One is supposed to be the title fight between full-time clubs Dunfermline Athletic and Greenock Morton. In actual fact, it shouldn’t be that close. Dunfermline have licked their wounds from the playoff humbling against Cowdenbeath, kept together the core of a side that was clearly the second best side behind Rangers in the division last season, and added players in a couple of weak areas in order to ensure a smooth passage back into the second tier. Morton, on the other hand, have overhauled almost their entire squad and will charge forward with a new manager that supporters didn’t want.
Jim Duffy has focused most of his attention this summer on scrapping the previous defensive structure and building an entirely new back four. Five centre backs (FIVE!?) have been signed in total. The problem is he’s not left much time or resources to concentrate on other areas of the team. Stefan McCluskey was brought with Duffy from Clyde but it remains to be seen whether the second striker’s abilities will transfer to a higher level. Then there’s the signing of Andy Barrowman.
The much travelled striker will run out for his 13th team in 13 years as a professional football this season. He still enjoys a strong reputation in Scotland despite most of that credit being banked from two stints (one outstanding, one decent) at Ross County when Derek Adams’s team were in the football league. That’s not meaning to be a slight on Barrowman’s abilities, particularly when it comes to the third tier. He was a reliable if not spectacular performer for Livingston in the Championship last term, making intelligent runs to stretch defences and create space for Mark McNulty to score the lion’s share of the club’s goals. Tenacious and technical, Barrowman will prove to be an advantageous attacker when he’s playing and should be help McCluskey navigate his transition.
The problem is that Barrowman has become somewhat injury prone the past couple of seasons. He played only 19 games for the Lions last term and enters this campaign already carrying a hamstring injury. Morton may have greater resources than their part-time League One opponents, but they cannot afford to be paying a year’s wage for half a season’s service, particularly when the resources seem to be running dry and there is a lack of depth behind Barrowman. Because of that issue this deal has been marked down somewhat.
Gozie Ugwu to Dunfermline
The League One favourites added the unknown striker late last week. Curiosity in the new lad turned into excitement when the fans entered his name into Google. A former highly thought of prospect at Reading, his exit from the Southern club this season was dubbed “surprising” by local Reading news sources. It is perhaps a sign of the times that interest then piqued when social media savvy supporters realised he had a verified Twitter account!
This may be the very last individual player project of Jim Jefferies’s managerial career. Ugwu had four seperate loan spells while in the Reading youth squad. His first destination, Ebbsfleet, was a fruitful experience but he never displayed the same form at any of Yeovil, Plymouth or Shrewsbury - his spell with the latter ending after he reacted poorly to criticism from the home fans. His home town team Oxford United granted a trial earlier this summer but decided against a permanent deal. Reading’s patience in him, and the fact that he continued to score for their under-21 side, suggests there’s a plenty of potential in there. He certainly fits the mould of a dominating striker – big, fast and can shoot. Jefferies and assistant Neil McCann may have to spend considerably time coaxing that ability out of him, however.
So the question is whether this was a gamble worth taking. Unless he’s a complete cancer in the dressing room, Ugwu shouldn’t have much of an impact either way on Dunfermline’s chances of winning the title this year. They were already clear favourites before the signing so nothing much has changed. He represents a raw talent with plenty of upside, a gamble that any team in a stable position should be willing to take.
Scott McManus to Clyde
In last month’s blog I alluded to Barry Ferguson having a terrific advantage in his first permanent managerial job by being able to pick himself at a level which is likely beneath his talents in spite of his advancing age. Whether Ferguson shared such a vision is now besides the point since the former Scotland captain has undergone surgery and will miss the beginning of the season. Any fears that this may spell trouble for Clyde were washed away when they knocked out League One Ayr United in the Challenge Cup. If those performances continue then it would indicate Ferguson possesses the same eye for detail on the sideline that he had while controlling games as a tempo setting central midfielder.
McManus, at least, looks like he’ll be an excellent find after arriving from the Junior leagues. The striker blasted close to 30 goals last season as Vale of Clyde won promotion to the top flight and Ferguson snapped him up after he netted a hat-trick as a trialist in a friendly game. He has immediately repaid the faith shown in him by scoring the opener against Ayr and could easily reach double figures over the course of the campaign.
The out-and-out goalscoring striker was something missing from the overachieving Clyde side of last season and early performances suggest Ferguson wants his team to attack in numbers. McManus should get plenty of opportunities as the club aim to make the playoffs for the second season in succession.
David McKenna to East Stirlingshire
For so long the punchline of Scottish football, The ‘Shire surprised everyone by racing to the top of the table in the opening few weekends of last season. Unfortunately, their form dropped off significantly and manager John Coughlin paid for it with his job. The former St Mirren boss wasn’t well liked about the home support since the fans thought his football was too defensive and unenjoyable to watch. Coughlin, at least last season, had his hands tied by the lack of options in attack. The club had bottomed out the previous two years in order to scrape together whatever reserves they had and built themselves back up. Coughlin then constructed, on paper, one of the best defences in the league, but money ran low when it came to the attack.
They still hold that sound defensive structure, even though defensive midfielder Iain Thomson is gone, and have now recruited the striker that, if they’d acquired him last summer, would likely have saw them battling it out in the playoffs at the conclusion of the 2013/14 campaign. McKenna, at 27, should still be a cut above most forwards in this division. It’s the first time he’s played at the level since 2006 and he’ll be expected to carry the attack both with his goals and generally play outside the area. He may not have enjoyed his time with Stranraer last term, but those frustrations were caused by sitting behind Jamie Longworth and Martin Greham in The Blues pecking order, both of whom would not stop scoring. Being the nailed on starter and getting his confidence back in the divison below should see McKenna comfortably scoring into double figurs.
The issue now is that the signing has come too late. Other notable first team players have left the club and it remains to be seen what new manager Craig Tully, in his first role, can do to lift this squad. Supporters are already concerned after two ominous defeats in the cup competitions where they were beaten 7-1 by Falkirk and 4-0 by Ayr United - with McKenna sent off in the latter. Betting punters had to withdraw the popular practice of putting any side facing ‘The Shire on their accumulator last term. They may wish to reinstate that exercise now.
Thanks to the outstanding website Tell Him He’s Pele for providing some of the information for this blog. www.tellhimhespele.com