You know you’re absolutely loving an FM save when you can power through the seasons at a faster rate than your usual. I’ve finished off my third season in charge of Stirling Albion on FM18 and, spoiler alert, it was a successful one for the club. After last season’s playoff final heartbreak, we only went and won the playoffs this season! That’s right, we’ve been promoted to the top tier of Scottish football (the resurrected SPL on this edited database). Trying something a little bit different for this update to get you up to speed, I’m going to highlight four matches across the season that really stood out for me and contributed to making it a successful one.
It’s always good to get your first league win of the season, but to get the three points while beating your rivals too makes it that little bit sweeter. We’d been unlucky not to get some points on the board on matchday one, as we missed an 88th minute penalty and dominated Airdrie for 90 minutes, but ultimately lost 1-0. Coming into this match, away at Alloa, I knew if we could play the same way again that we’d be in with a chance of a win.
We lined up in the formation below, I’m calling it a 4-1-2-2-1, you might just call it a 4-3-3.
We’ve really settled into this way of playing now, it served us well last season, so I felt no reason to make any tweaks for season three either. The full backs are much more cautious role and mentality-wise, and I don’t see that changing any time soon either. Big upgrades in quality are needed before I do that. I’m yet to be fully convinced by the inside forward role on the left, but I’ve been more unconvinced when I’ve tried anything else out too. During matches I may tweak the player to sit narrower and roam a bit more, and probably should get round to doing that from the outset.
Back to the Alloa match. Last season’s top scorer, Ross Kavanagh, got us off the mark. He scored 17 last season, and went one better this season, bagging 18 for us. Liam Caddis, our central midfielder on attack, scored with a typical goal for him, which we’ll see an example of later in the post. None of our goalscorers earned the man of the match award though. It went to this man.
Sean Mackle arrived in the summer on a free transfer from Warrenpoint Town in Northern Ireland, an absolute bargain. What a season he had. Lining up as our winger on the right (yes, he might have four for dribbling but who cares!), he got 14 assists (most in the league), scored eight goals too and was just generally found bombing up and down that right hand side. He led the way in the league for most distance covered per 90 minutes and ran 451km across the season. Sometimes it’s worth looking beyond a few poor attributes…
As we neared the end of the first half of the season, coming into the match with Brechin we were sitting just outside the playoff spots in 7th. We’d already lost six in the league, but had won six too. This win was the third match in a stretch of nine unbeaten which propelled us as high as 5th by the end of it. The Brechin match was all about one man though, Liam Caddis. A hattrick from central midfield isn’t to be sniffed at. All three were characteristic of how that CM(A) role has been playing for us. Caddis gets himself into the opposition penalty area to support on striker and gets himself on the end of chances.
I loved this goal that completed his hattrick. We’d just seen Orsi pull one back for Brechin to make it 2-1 and set up a potentially nervy last few minutes. We kept the ball brilliantly for a couple of minutes from the restart, calmly passing it around. What a run from Caddis after Kavanagh dropped in to open up that space in behind. The pass from Coustrain though too. Oooft. Peach. Caddis ended the season with nine goals, one less than his previous two seasons at the club, but performed brilliantly and had the league highest average rating over the course of the season.
Scottish Cup 6th Round
Decent progression in the Scottish Cup had alluded us so far. Ross County put us out as soon as we’d entered in the first season, while we managed to get to the 4th round last season, before being stopped in our tracks by Dundee on penalties. It really is the luck of the draw as all 288 league clubs take part. We found a little bit of luck this season, as we overcame Kilwinning Rangers, Wick Academy, Sauchie and Stranraer to reach the 6th round. The prize money on offer in the Scottish Cup can be quite lucrative too, our run netted us just under £390k, but we unfortunately bowed out in front of a capacity Forthbank crowd against a strong Hibs side.
We did frustrate them though, restricting them to 10 long shots out of their total of 19 and we had a couple of chances to score ourselves. Their quality shone through at the end of the day though. They’ve got a strong Scottish CM-CM-AM triangle of John McGinn, Craig Sibbald and Ryan Christie but they were left frustrated as some of their foreign imports sealed the win.
Our record in the Scottish Cup so far has me worried. We’ve gained promotion to the SPL but have yet to beat a side from the top tier competitively. Maybe with some strengthening over the summer we might be alright next season. Maybe…
S1 Playoff Final
Literally nobody calls it this, but we’d headed to Hampden for the Richest Game in Scottish Football™ for a second consecutive season. We stumbled into the playoffs in 6th place, drawing three of our final five league matches. We overcame 3rd placed Airdrie in the semi final again, same as last season. 5th placed Raith Rovers overcame Livingston in 4th and would meet us in the final. In our four meetings prior, we’d won two, drawn one and lost one. I was quietly confident.
And I had every right to be. We blew Raith away over four second half minutes as Mackle and Smith combined (Smith set up Mackle’s goal, Mackle set up both of Smith’s) to secure SPL football for the club in the 2020/21 season! We were keeping Raith at bay, but were struggling to make the breakthrough ourselves. A little tweak, changing to standard instead of counter and demanding more of the players (swear these in-game teamtalks do something, at least) on the 60th minute mark, certainly paid off.
Wide man and man of the match, Darren Smith, got his second and our third with the above. It came from a Raith corner, termed a counter corner by both Keysi Rensie and myself, we both love scoring them and to get one in the playoff final is brilliant. I love the unselfishness of Mackle to square it for Smith’s easy finish.
There you have it. Four matches that defined our season and showcased some of the brilliant, and also slightly disappointing, aspects of the way we play.
We got just under £900k for our league position of 6th (more than we got last season for finishing higher up), which will go a huge way to provide a solid footing for the club to be built on. I’ve so far refrained some splashing out any major money on players. Of course, players of that ilk don’t really want to come to us yet, we’re still languishing in the high 20’s in terms of the countries most reputable clubs, but I don’t want to needlessly spend money when it’s not sustainable to yet.
We only saw a slight increase (12%) in season ticket holders for this season, and our average attendance (and gate receipt takings) actually dropped by 9%. I’m attributing this to not being in the same league as our main rivals, Falkirk, and well-followed, Dunfermline, this season. Obviously with the jump to the SPL I’m expecting these three things to drastically increase next season. If we avoid relegation, we’ll have a windfall incoming of around £1m and it’s at that point that I’ll look to start the next phase of growing the club, improving our facilities.
An unexpected promotion then! If I thought I had a busy summer transfer window this season, I’ve got a lot of work to do to get this squad capable of bravely battling immediate relegation from the SPL.