It has not been without trying, Harry Cairney’s team have been close twice with last season; after a quarter of the season gone they sat at the top of the league. They were in contention for the title. The previous year Cairney’s charges had been beaten in the Final of the Play Off by Albion Rovers. It looked as though progress was assured.
Now Cairney, having been manager for 6 years, is preparing the team for their next assault. As he does so he must sit for a while and wonder where it all went wrong last season. An opening fixture against Queens Park that saw a 5-2 victory must have made Galabank think that their time had come. Out the Communities Cup in the First Round meant they could concentrate on the league and on the Ramsden’s Cup. August was a fruitful month, as indeed was September. October was not so shabby either and along with a run in the aforementioned Ramsden’s Cup that saw them defeat 2 3rd Division sides and 1 1st Division team they were in the Semi Finals. Only one game away from a national final they fell at Falkirk’s hurdle. League form was to take a serious dip.
November saw a heavy defeat to Stenhousemuir (4-0) whilst December brought only 1 win in 5 games. They let in another 4 goals that month – against Stranraer, though they did score twice – this was a team miserly in defence but hardly prolific up front.
The New Year was disastrous. In the first 3 months Annan played 12 games in the league and only won twice. By the end of March it was all over. Despite a 4-0 victory right at the end of that month against East Stirling any hope of a title or even the play offs were lost in another 5 games played where only another 1 victory was gathered in April and May.
Rebuilding work at Galabank has begun – off AND on the pitch. The pitch is being replaced with a new 3G surface – work is well underway – and July will see the team on its travels to try out 3G pitches at Gala Fairydean on the 14th, Stenhousemuir on the 17th and Spartans on the 21st. They will also be at Threave Rovers on the 7th and Dalbeattie Star on the 3rd or 4th. All pre season games are away from home so the work will be finished in time for their first home league game of the season – against Berwick Rangers. It might be ready in time for Livingston in the Ramsden’s Cup, however if not Palmerston has already been sorted.
But what of the likely team that will take to that 3G field? It won’t include Davy Mitchell, David Winters, Sean O’Connor, Bryan Gilfillan or David Cox as they have all been released. Names that during last year I had got well used to typing in my reports are now away from the town. Aaron Muirhead has also left the club and has signed on at Partick Thistle whilst John MacBeth has taken up a post as player manager for Dalbeattie Star. An early June trial for potential players was set and signs are that Cairney has acted quickly to recruit at least 5 new signings to help strengthen the squad.
As goalkeeper, Alex Mitchell has signed on though news is awaited of Craig Summersgill returning.
His defence – that was miserly during last season – will have Peter Watson back, Steven Swinglehurst – having been released from Carlisle and following a successful period on loan at Annan –and youngster John Watson. To say it looks light is an understatement. Michael McGowan has yet to sign on again.
In midfield Jack Steele, Steven Sloan, Jordan McKechnie and Chris Jardine return and will be joined by Scott Chaplain from Albion Rovers. Chaplain is a veteran of the lower leagues and has built a solid reputation with Albion Rovers, Ayr United and had spells at Partick and Dumbarton.
Fire power up front has certainly been added to with forwards, Michael Daly from Queens Park, Ally Love returning, Kieran McGachie from Motherwell and David Murray from Queens Park now firmly part of the squad. Any deal that has been offered to Graeme Bell will need to be acted upon soon or the train will have gone.
Annan certainly will need to add a keeper, bolster the defence and things may well look better next July. Harry Cairney has shown significant progress year on year – until last year. There are no signs that anyone is restless in Galabank but not getting out this division by 2013 may be seen as a negative as progress should be consistent. Last year I though Annan had a real chance and for a time they proved that I was correct, however their collapse was as brutal as it was significant. This year they need consistency from the 2nd quarter on otherwise it will be another year of what ifs…