Last season saw Jimmy Boyle step into a mess that was likely to take more than a few scrapes on the grass to get rid. The club had axed all its players and the manager had taken his bike out the garage and ridden off on it. Many, myself included, had them down as relegation fodder. What happened thereafter can’t be placed on the same plain as Lazarus but it can be claimed that Boyle managed to resurrect a club by building a team around stalwarts and new faces. He brought the right blend of youth and experience with a couple of loan signings along the way that pushed towards an outside chance of the play offs at the opposite end of where people expected. What certainly was not expected was the various off field disturbances that saw Steven McKeown return … then leave; the scandal of Scott Gibson and his days off work; and the brawl between him and Ryan Wallace in the car park.
For me, Jimmy Boyle was the manager of the season in the Second – not a view held by many in the know – but I still feel his accomplishments outweighed others within the league. His man management in dealing with scandal seems to be assured though and all indiscipline was dealt with swiftly and effectively. This year, however, the background is very different meaning the expectation levels are better and ultimately we can look forward to Jimmy proving whether my assessment of him as a decent manager is right or he is another in the long line of managers who may struggle at this level in their second season.
Undoubtedly the team are in better shape than last year as they have a team and pre season fixtures have been announced through the local press – not on the official website tut, tut – but expectations are such that some are bemoaning the lack of signing progress on some areas and losing players in other areas.
Rumours of an experienced and talented goalkeeper training pre season with Airdrie is welcome news for the doubters as Mark Ridgers returned to Hearts leaving Gianluca Corvi as the sole signed keeper, Adam Szpilczynski having been released. Ridgers last year was a big part of their success and Boyle will want to make sure he has a decent first choice keeper settled. There are plenty out there at this level and already some have been calling for ex Ayr and Alloa keeper David Crawford as a more than decent signing. Crawford was excellent at Alloa and this reputation came with him to Ayr. A torrid season as first choice keeper then usurped not once but twice by keepers brought in to replace him might put Boyle off.
In defence Boyle has strengthened by signing David Lilley formerly of Queen of the South and Kieron Stallard, formerly of Falkirk. Added o tem he has also brought in former Livingston defender Chris Malone. These all look excellent signings and will find themselves playing alongside Jamie Bain, Christopher Malone and Graeme Goodall. Adam Shaw from the under 19s has also been retained and Adam Fairweather may also be part of the squad though mystery surrounds his intentions – or maybe nobody has asked him. Rumours also abound that former Dumbarton Centre Back, Ben Gordon will be on his way too. Long serving club captain and veteran Paul Lovering may be on his way out with Pollock having been mentioned a s a possible home but there have also been suggestions he may be joining the coaching team at Airdrie too. Nothing to stop him doing both of course! Confirmed as having left are David Gray – off to the USA, Ewan Grant – released by Falkirk and David Cane. Unknown is Craig Hill – last heard chewing over an offer.
In the middle of the park there’s Nathan Blockley, Rhys Devlin, Phil Johnston, Fraser Keast and Graeme Owens. Reports that Gary Mackay-Stevens has resigned are yet to be formally confirmed but there are many Diamonds with their fingers crossed. Mackay-Stevens was outstanding for them last year and his return would be a welcome boost. Positive rumours abound that he will come back on a month to month loan whilst looking for full-time football. There has been less movement in the middle than elsewhere and many fans are concerned that here the names mentioned may have been squad players last year and not first picks. It could leave them short across the middle. Names like Ryan McCord – now at Alloa and Jamie Stevenson – considering an offer from the club. Released were Jonny Fisher, Grant Smith, David Shaw and Gary Muir.
Airdrie weathered the storm or loss of Anthony Watt for Celtic up front and Boyle has added two to his squad for the new season in Auchinleck Talbot’s John Boyle and Danny Burns who was a free agent and has signed on amateur terms but could feature in the 19s rather than the first team squad. With the release of Andy Ferguson and Scott Gemmill Airdrie have resigned Scott Morton, Scott Sally and Ryan Donnelly and this seems quite a potent front line. Will they miss Aiden Malone or Chris Craig who left by mutual consent?
Whether or not Airdrie United will become a potent force all over the park will be tested in four behind closed-door games with Morton, Queen’s Park, Stranraer and Dunfermline before they are off on their travels to Alloa and Peterhead ahead of the season starting properly. They have landed well with three home games with which to begin. Livingston first up in the Ramsden’s Cup will be a stern test, Stirling Albion at home should be a cracker and the opening the league with Dumbarton velar evidence of whether progress really has been made. Two wins out of three should be counted as just that progress.
Overall the season is looking brighter than twelve months ago but Boyle should be looking at the play offs as the sure sign of success this year – anything less will be failure and Airdrie need to get back into the First Division. It was what their ground was built for and what their support expects.