Samo’s Stirling – End of Season Two – Part Two

Sorry about that cliff I left you hanging off after the last post. I felt it’d be much better if we dealt with the playoffs separately after we’d gone on that remarkable run of form in the second half of the season and unbelievably managed to qualify for them, after our 4th place finish in the league. Let’s get into it.

Playoffs

Airdrie’s 5th place finish meant it’d be them we’d face in the semi final. We brilliantly beat them 3-1 at the Excelsior on matchday one of the S1 season after promotion, but they gained revenge by beating us 1-0 at Forthbank on matchday 17. We went into the first leg on a run of six straight wins, and had only conceded one goal across those wins. I was confident.

Semi final 1st leg

Crash back down to earth. We played really poorly and never got going. Going in at half time still goalless, I was confident that a kick up the arse teamtalk would spark the players into life. That unfortunately didn’t happen, and Airdrie hit us for two goals in quick succession. Goalscoring opportunities were few and far between as Airdrie went on lockdown and we couldn’t find a way through. If we wanted to have any chance of making the final, and remain in contention for promotion to the SPL, we had a mountain to climb in the 2nd leg.

Semi final 2nd leg

Mountain conquered! What a win. What a bloody win. It wasn’t all one way traffic, Airdrie certainly attacked us, but we managed to do what was needed to make the final. Unbelievable. The vital goal was the second, as it usually is. Coming in the third minute of first half stoppage time with a Ross Smith header from a corner. A captain’s goal at such an important time.

Going into that second half though, we still needed another goal to get ourselves ahead in the tie, and it came in the 69th minute from experienced wide man, Darren Smith. Coming from another corner (set piece excellence can be the difference), the ball falls to Sean Dickson on the edge of the box who neatly lays it off to Smith who was unmarked in acres of space on the right hand side of the penalty area. A first time powerful shot gave the keeper no chance and the ball hit the back of the net.

Airdrie still had 20 minutes to find that consolation on the night that would have seen them take back control of the tie with an away goal, but we managed to stay tight and defend well. On to Hampden!

Final

Pure joy to despair. Falkirk are promoted to the SPL after overcoming us in the Richest Game in Scottish Football™. Their team remains strong, despite their relegation last season. It was always going to be a tough match but we put up a really good fight. Two lapses in concentration from their wide areas cost us in the end. Rory Loy’s goal came from just a simple lofted cross into the box. He wriggled away from Ross Smith and headed it into the net. We managed to get ourselves back in the game through a lovely bit of play, finished off by loan signing, Aberdeen winger Willis Furtado. I was pretty happy going into the break level.

Lapse number two in our own penalty area came in the 61st minute, as O’Hara wrapped up promotion for Falkirk. We twice failed to clear our lines from what should have been an easy cross to deal with. Blair Currie made a great save from another Loy header, but O’Hara reacted first to knock in the rebound. In truth, we didn’t look like even bothering Falkirk once they got their second. Congratulations to them.

Players of the Season

Kavanagh

Goals, goals, goals. 17 to be precise. I detailed in the last post that Kav only got a chance in the side up front due to some injuries and a lack of form, and he took it magnificently. 11 goals in his 18 matches since he moved to be our man up top. He’s homegrown at the club too after moving to Stirling as a youngster after a short stint at our rivals, Alloa.

R. Smith

Captain, leader, rock at the back. Led the way for league highs on both key headers won and interceptions made (second place for both was his defensive partner, Ross McGeachie). He is prone to a lapse of concentration though, as he was at fault for Falkirk’s first goal in the Playoff final, but he also scored us that vital second goal in the Playoff semi against Airdrie. Swings and roundabouts. He’s a good character to have around the club, being one of three team leaders we have across the squad and he made his 100th appearance for the club this season too.

D. Smith

Darren is no relation of Ross but both Smith’s ended up having very good seasons. The natural forward was utilised mostly from the right hand side as a winger. 13 assists and 8 goals later, he didn’t have too bad a season at all. He was third in the league for most distance covered per 90 minutes with that 16 work rate being a key asset of his game.

Club Growth

I’m aiming to significantly grow Stirling Albion in my time at the club, and one of the ways that’ll happen in my first few years is if we turn professional…

This is a huge step forward and will really help us in not only being able to attract a better standard of player to the club, but to develop a better standard of player too. The biggest noticeable change will be in training. As a semi-professional club, our players have only been training twice a week. You’d never have noticed it in our performances so far. The change to professional will see them training full time and give me much more freedom over what I can ask them to do, so I’m expecting even more from them now in their abilities and performances.

Managing a club like this, one of my main aims is continually ensuring we’re getting more fans through the turnstiles.

Last season’s promotion led to an 80% rise in season tickets sold ahead of this season. We had 450 hardcore fans handing over their hard earned money to watch the Binos this season, I’d expect that to rise again for next season. Playing against teams with higher reputations in S1 and good performances on the pitch against them led to an 86% rise in our league average attendance this season compared to the last. It jumped from 850 last season to 1,578 this season, placing us in 6th place in the average attendance table. Not bad at all.

The bank balance is looking very healthy. Our brilliant league finish brought us £725k, while the TV deal in place for the second tier of Scottish football handed us £150k over the course of the season. We also saw a 116% rise in money made from gate receipts this season too, bringing us £255k more than last season. Our stable financial situation is what led me to asking the board to go professional. Turning professional is the first step on the ladder, and I don’t want to rock the boat too much by charging in and requesting all the improvements to facilities at the same time. I don’t want to force it, it’ll happen naturally and eventually.

I’m disappointed obviously, but as ridiculous as it sounds, I’m quite glad we didn’t get promoted. I’d prefer to have another season, potentially even two, at this level to get the club in a position to be ready for the SPL when the time comes for promotion.

I’ve got a busy summer window to get through! As ever, I really do appreciate you reading. I write for me and me only, so if anyone else wants to join me on my journeys it’s an absolute bonus.

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