From parachute payments to reduced budget structures, coming down from the SPL has always proven to be challenging for the clubs coming down from the Premier League. Two years ago Inverness proved that rebounding can be done but last year Falkirk’s failure to get back up nearly cost Steven Pressley his job.
Billy Reid went up to the SPL on the back of the youth system that gave his reputation such a boost he was courted from teams down south. There is very little likelihood that Billy Reid will find himself under the cosh come May next year but is there a possibility Hamilton are in the First for a lengthy period or will they climb out the First at the first time of asking? If you visit their website they have themselves alphabetically at the top so they can at least start the season in the right place – bit of a cheek though calling themselves Accies to get there though!
There will be no trickery when the season starts proper, as Reid attempts to get promotion again for his beloved Accies. Like many before him as soon as the final game of the season was over, along came the redundancies and the released players. One or two had already gone by the time, ironically they had finished the season against Inverness with no fewer than 10 were let go from the first team squad with a further five under-19s gone as well. For a team that was built through their youth system the big question is, will they revert to that successful formula or will they look to a blend of the experienced and youth that other teams seem to be mixing in advance of the coming campaign?
As would be expected from a team that has been relegated the releases have outweighed the incoming signings. With a balanced squad that was signed to 2012 Reid perhaps did not have room for manoeuvre that others may have, but may have the consistency when he hits the ground that others may have to wait for by Christmas and the clamour for signings in the January transfer market may not face him. Clubs coming down from “the big league” don’t always start well, so this may be in his favour as he starts the climb out the First.
He has a solid goalkeeper that has attracted a lot of interest from bigger clubs in Thomas Cerny and even before we start the season he may have the best keeper in it! Back-up is provided through Brian Potter who also doubles as the goalkeeping coach. Sean Murdoch from the first team as well as Darren Dolan and Andy Kennedy from the under 19s we released, so if there is extra cover to come in there is a reasonable chance they could find themselves first choice if Cerny doesn’t fancy spending their October evenings playing the likes of Thistle rather than Rangers. Of course it may make financial sense if there is a decent back up keeper to allow Cerny to go for a fee rather than wait for the end of his contract. Of course this may depend on where in the league they find themselves.
Six defenders found themselves out of contract including one who spent the season on loan at Morton. Grant Evans has signed for Morton alongside Andy Graham who was also released. They were joined out the door at New Douglas Park by David Buchanan, David Elebert, James Gibson and Gavin Skelton. It has left Accies with a defensive team of Lee Kilday, Mark McLaughlin and Martin Canning. They can be augmented from the 19s by Michael Devlin, Ziggy Gordon, Stephen Hendrie and Brian McQueen. There is cover albeit from a very young source.
In midfield, out went Mark Carrington and Gary McDonald whilst Aaron Wildig returned to Cardiff City. Under 19s released who were on loan at Junior clubs included Jordan McCue and Reece McGillion. There is no news regarding Jon Routledge but the midfield area seems a well covered. Reid has his pick from the younger ones – Ali Crawford, who re-signed, Grant Gillespie, Jordan Kirkpatrick – back from being on loan to Brechin City with under 19s Euan Lindsay, Connor McGlinchey and Andy Ryan. Experience comes from James Chambers, Jim McAllister, Simon Mensing and Alex Neil. There does seem to be plenty of cover there.
Up front may be a different proposition altogether. Dougie Imrie was contracted until 2012 and under 19s David Hopkirk and Kieran Millar are on hand if needed. Reid let go off Tom Elliott as well as Scott Pitman who was on loan at Alloa Athletic. There is no news regarding Mikael Antoine-Curier but Nigel Hasselbaink has signed at St Mirren. Cover may be needed in this department. The signing of former Queen of the South forward Willie McLaren will certainly help. Reid’s man management may be stretched getting the best out of the mercurial McLaren. He has also brought in Grant Anderson formerly of Stenhousemuir, hoping no doubt that he will make the leap from basement Second Division to Premier League contenders.
Hamilton will clearly hope they start the season well and that they have the depth of squad to make that possible. What they need is to prove, is that with depth comes quality also. The bulk of the squad got plaudits last year for their playing style even if their end position was far from satisfactory. They should be serious contenders for the First Division title and if the Inverness example showed two years ago starting badly is no barrier to eventual success. Reid, however will hope that the pace and the frenetic playing of the First, so they can put some points on the board as quickly as possible.
Pre-season is a quite a strange one with two away games – at Gretna and Berwick Rangers – before the first cup competition has them away against Queens Park. They then start the league campaign away to Ayr United – newly promoted from the Second Division via the play-offs. Is there an easier July and beginning of August for Billy Reid?
Success will be promotion, an acceptable season may be a top three finish with a cup run whilst failure would be mid table mediocrity. With the squad settled and perhaps a new face or two to finish it off, an educated guess would be Billy Reid may manage a few manager of the month’s plaudits and possibly be close to getting back into the SPL. Whether he does or not may well depend on how Hamilton weather the winter.