Samo’s Stirling – Season Five – WTF!?

I’ve only just managed dry myself off after being so close to not being able to keep our heads above the choppy water of the SPL relegation zone in season four and we’re back again for the season five review!

The media expects us to finish 16th this season, they’re not backing us to build on last season’s survival, while my board are more than happy to just avoid relegation again. My own feeling is that we need to significantly strengthen if we want to remain in the league, never mind improve on last season’s 13th place finish.

We had some really positive results last season, and even more positive performances. A couple of quality acquisitions might just see the mistakes decrease, a few more goals scored instead of missed chances and turn the disappointing reds and yellows on the results screen into a sea of green. Keep reading to see how we get on.

Transfers

Not major outgoings aside from a few players now deemed surplus to requirements. We still aren’t quite at the stage of selling players for any sums of money so let’s crack on with the incoming transfers.

More solidity in defence was required and I made this man my number one target after his release from Hibs. He returns to the club after playing 29 games for us on loan back in season one.

Ryan Porteous becomes our highest paid player and, in a somewhat uncharacteristically rash decision from me, I instantly installed him as our captain. He’s Scottish, he’s young and I’m delighted that Hibs were stupid enough to not keep him for their homegrown quota.

We’ve spoken about the fact that left back has been a bit of a problem area for me so far, so in comes highly rated Welsh youngster, Owen Hughes. He’s got a great personality and looks like he could be a really useful option for us in rotation with last year’s summer window signing, Jamie Robson.

Kellan Gordan had been released by Derby after only making five appearances for the club over five seasons. I liked the look of him to come in and provide competition on the right hand side. He’s got a good engine, and decent ability to get past a man and get a ball in the box.

Sometimes you find the best players when you aren’t even looking for them…

Roger Griffiths (#Rog) hadn’t signed a professional deal yet at Wrexham. The Welsh contingent at the club grows thanks to some hackz (subscribing to your rivals transfer activity so it appears in your feed). I spotted that Dundee United had had a bid rejected for him and why submit a bid when I could just offer him a contract straight away and pay £80k compensation. An absolute bargain and what a player he looks like he’ll be for us. The catalyst behind the tactical switch that I’ll take you through in just a second.

Okay, the incomings are stepping up a notch now. Arnau Puigmal popped up as being available on loan, and I almost bit Jose’s hand off. He instantly becomes our best midfielder, adding a touch of continental class to the side.

Some would class this as a pure marketing ploy, and sure it’ll gain the club (and my Twitter account!) some publicity, but Freddy Adu is actually decent enough to be an option for us! Sure his mentals are pretty terrible, but he’s naturally fit, he can still dribble and he’s got a little bit of flair left in him. He’s been without a club since the save started, it’s remarkable he hasn’t retired.

The final transfer I’m taking you through is our first Scandinavian arrival, Mads Pedersen. As the coach description says, he’s in his prime years and adds a bit of experience into a mostly youthful squad. I see him partnering Puigmal in the centre of my midfield in the new tactic…

Tactics

#Rog’s arrival and Hardie’s standout performances last season had me thinking that I needed to get them both playing together, and up top, not with one of them punted out on the left wing. What better than an absolute classic? 4-4-fucking-2.

Simplicity is key, and it’s been my tactical approach now since the beginning of FM17 with RBL too. I’m not the most tactically minded manager, nor do I proclaim to be an FM pro. I just don’t want to over-complicate things by playing roles that I’m unfamiliar with or by introducing instruction after instruction to the point where I’ve no idea what my team is supposed to be doing anymore. That doesn’t mean I won’t introduce any during a match based on what I’m seeing, quite the opposite. Starting this way gives me the freedom to do that, in both offensive and defensive directions.

Other than my keeper being instructed to play it out to my defence in a non-risky manner and my DLF on support being given more of a free role and instructing him to get into the channels, what you see is what you get. If you can’t be arsed replicating it from the image, hit me up on Twitter or #FMSlack and I’ll send you the link for it. After seeing our results this season, you might just fancy trying it out…

SPL

We really don’t like starting seasons well. The first two matches looked tough on paper, but after an honourable narrow loss at Ibrox, to get destroyed 5-1 at home v Hibs was unacceptable. #Rog did get off the mark though. Consecutive 0-0’s after that had me worried after four matches but I kept the faith. It would have been easy to rip the new tactic apart and start a fresh, but that isn’t my style. I’d seen some promising play and all it needed was that first win against Dundee United to get things going properly.

#Rog and Hardie didn’t get on initially. Hardie was worried about our new arrival keeping him out of the team, all it took was time though. From that 4-2 win v Inverness, we scored 20 goals in six matches, unheard of for us. #Rog and Hardie scored 15 of them, including back-to-back league hattricks for #Rog against Dundee and Ayr. Overall a much better first half of the season in comparison to last year and it leaves us sitting in a ridiculously high 5th place in the league. A great platform to build on for the second half of the season.

Umm, dude, where’s my draws? There’s quite a lot of green dots on this screen, an unnerving amount almost. We didn’t, did we?

No, we didn’t win the league, but holy shit! 3rd place! Europa League qualification! For little Stirling Albion, playing in the smallest stadium in the league and spending a fraction on wages in comparison to most other teams in the league, this is an unbelievable achievement.

The first thing to note is #Rog’s loss of form. After 13 goals in the first half of the season, he only scored three in the second half of the league season. Why? I’m not quite sure yet but I need to get to the bottom of that. Luckily last season’s star man and his strike partner, Ryan Hardie, stepped up otherwise we’d never have finished as high as we did.

It’s difficult to put into words (handy for a blog post) just how well we played in that second half of the season. Draws turned into wins and we were seconds away from beating Celtic at Celtic Park. To take our first point off either them or Rangers though is an achievement in itself.

The backline shored up magnificently as captain Porteous led us to conceding just 38 goals, a huge improvement on last season when we conceded 60. The addition of #Rog saw the goals spread out among the team a bit more, with Puigmal (5) and Lewis Vaughan (11) scoring their fair share too. Both areas that I had identified I wanted to improve on from last season.

The final thing to note is that, for the first time since the 2010/11 season, Rangers have won the top tier of Scottish football. They did it in style too, going unbeaten. Derek McInnes did very well in his first season in charge, while Celtic struggled to cope with the loss of BRodge to Stoke at the start of the season.

Scottish Cup

Is it too much to ask to just get an easy run to the quarter or semi finals? I want to love the Scottish Cup, I really do, but I don’t yet. One step further than last season, at least we got an away pay day against Celtic. Killie won it, which means they go into the 3rd round of Europa League qualifying ahead of us.

⭐ men

Ryan Hardie

This was a close one, but I think Hardie just shades it. In the first half of the season, he was mainly a provider. While in the second half of the season, as I said already, he properly stepped up and was the main man, similarly to last season. All in all he finished on 22 goals scored, 18 in the league (putting him 3rd on the top goalscorer table), and 13 assists, 12 of those coming in the league. The deep lying forward free role really suits him and I think the crowning attribute of it is that off the ball attribute. He makes some brilliant runs down the right hand side, creating space and causing sheer havoc for opposition defences.

#Rog

I moaned about Griffiths’ second half of the season, but I’m going to forgive him. Firstly, because he’s still just a young lad in a new country and maybe suffered a little bit of burnout after a ? start to the season. Secondly, because he ends the season on 24 goals scored in 36 games overall. I’ve cut him a little bit of #FMSlack. I’ve been working on improving his composure (up to 12 now from 11, I take all my screenshots at the same time, soz), as he actually misses quite a lot of great chances after finding himself in brilliant positions to score. Once next season starts, he’s going to start working on seeing whether he can place shots too. I like that trait in my strikers.

Kevin Cairns

I’ve never spoken to you about this man before, so let me introduce you to Cairnseh, as @Servalarian and I have christened him on #FMSlack. Cairnseh arrived in my first youth intake in season one, and was clearly the pick of the bunch (below).

It was slim pickings but he was highly rated by my backroom staff, and in the years since we’ve fought off many a bid from our now fellow SPL sides for him. Fast forward to 2021/22 (first screenshot) and he’s come on leaps and bounds. I started to get him involved in and around the first team from 2018/19 but limited him to just a handful of sub appearances. In 2019/20 he made just under two handfuls of sub appearances, and then in our survival season last year, he was pretty much a fully fledged member of the bench. Coming on 14 times and starting four matches too.

I’ve managed to get his determination up ever-so-slightly and his personality has changed from the negative unambitious to, the still quite negative in my opinion, balanced. He’s had some great attribute gains in most areas too. As I came towards the halfway stage of this season, we were struggling on that left hand side of midfield. Bad planning on my part had left us with a lack of left footed options out wide, while injuries had started to come into play too. Step forward Cairnseh. He might not scream winger to you, but our wide man on the left isn’t expected to bomb on and beat full backs for pace. 18 starts later and eight assists, and he’s asserted himself in our first team. What better sight than one of your own playing week in, week out.

Club Growth

£5.5m in our back pockets from the 3rd place finish and the club is well and truly on solid footing financially. We’ve got £6.5m in the bank, the stadium and both our training and youth facilities could all do with major work being carried out on them, but I just don’t feel comfortable asking for it to be sanctioned yet. I’ll take stock again at the halfway stage of next season and see where we’re at.

Where growth off the pitch last season was astronomical as we completed our first season in the top tier, this season was always going to be a bit more marginal, despite the incredible on pitch performances. Season ticket sales rose by 8% to 1,159, meaning we’ve still got some work to do to convince the people of Stirling to come out and support their local team. Increased away supports and playing teams with higher reputations every fortnight sees our average attendance grow again, but only by 4% season on season. We need a bigger stadium in the long term, but I still think we need to be maxing out Forthbank in its current capacity first.

European football is coming to Stirling in season six. We’ll enter the 2nd qualifying round of the Europa League, and it could well all be over after that. We’re minnows in comparison to the potential opposition we could face, we’re still minnows in our own domestic league! But we’ll give it a right good go and see if we can continue punching above our weight.

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