ANNAN Athletic – who despite joining the then SFL in 2008, remain one of the newest additions to the Scottish professional league set-up – are the antithesis to the club which they replaced.

Admitted to the SFL in 2002, Gretna were later taken over Brookes Mileson who furnished the club with enough financial clout to effectively buy their way to three successive promotions and a Scottish Cup final. Eventually, and predictably, the deck of cards that Mileson had hurriedly constructed came tumbling down and administration and a points deduction followed. Their subsequent liquidation opened up a spot in the SFL which Annan were awarded after fighting off competition from Edinburgh City, Cove Rangers and Spartans.

Whereas the instant-gratification seekers wanted success and they wanted it it last season, Annan have been much more modest in their ambitions and how they go about achieving them. Or, as Andy Harrow put it in issue 10 of Nutmeg Magazine: “With the Gretna fairytale-turned-disaster fresh in people’s minds, Annan offered an antithetical approach. Where the Black and Whites had built quickly and dangerously, their replacements promised to grow slowly and sensibly.”

Harrow also reports that after an initial surge attendances have since fallen. And while you wouldn’t begrudge the Galabank supporters for harbouring frustration at a lack promotion in the last 10 years, such pragmatism has kept them well out any danger. Their three promotion play-off finishes have ended in disappointment but the club has never finished lower than eighth.

It’s been a typically modest season this time too, with former Hearts striker Cristian Nade the biggest name to come through the door and join a young, vibrant squad. After the first eight matches, Annan sat fourth – a position they have barely moved from since – and had scored a similar amount of goals to the three sides above them. The discrepancy between them and the top three came from the fact they had conceded 11 goal across those fixtures.

Then the club suffered a slump when assistant manager Kevin Rutkiewicz left to take up the management vacancy at Stirling. Whether by coincidence or not, the move saw Annan – after an initial victory in Elgin – go eight matches without a win while Stirling – after losing narrowly to Edinburgh City – embarked upon a 13-game stretch in which they lost just once.

That dreadful form has since been arrested, with Saturday’s victory over Queen’s Park, courtesy of a double from Tony Wallace, meaning Peter Murphy’s men are now unbeaten in nine, winning eight of those, while the side remain unbeaten at home since early December.

It was far from Annan’s best performance of the season but they have now added a cutting edge to their impressive build-up play and have seen their last 17 goals shared by nine different scorers. They have also tightened a previously leaky defence, conceding just 8 in their last 11.

It leaves Annan in a no man’s land of sorts, unlikely to reel in those above them or be usurped by those below. It means another play-off finish looms, and another crack at seeing if their patience and modesty will be rewarded.

Clever recruitment helps Forfar move up to second

PRESSURE was mounting on a clearly agitated Jim Weir after his side’s 4-0 reverse to East Fife in early October. It left Forfar with two wins from their first nine and saw them slump to just a point off the bottom of League One.
It was especially disappointing given Weir’s astute summer recruitment, which saw the likes of John Baird, Thomas Reilly and Ross Meechan added.

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Meanwhile, Darren Whyte returned from St Mirren after a successful loan spell and a number of Premiership youngsters were borrowed.
Weir then said before delving into the January transfer market that he wanted to improve his starting XI. Through bringing in Adam Eckersley on loan from 
St Mirren and adding free agent Gary Irvine – and converting him into a central midfielder – he has delivered on that promise.

The poor start to the campaign meant that Dylan Easton was once again the target of some boo boys and was one of those singled out by the manager. He is now benefitting from Forfar’s resurgence as much as anyone, fighting fit after a couple of injury-ravaged seasons, as well as from playing alongside the likes of Baird and Dale Hilson. All three were on the scoresheet at the weekend, with the highlight coming when all three combined to expertly carve-out the second. 

The win was Forfar’s seventh win in their last nine league matches and saw them go into second at the expense of Raith Rovers, who have made a habit of failing to capitalise on Arbroath slip-ups.

Dunfermline and Queen of the South trading places

THE contrasting turnaround in fortunes of Dunfermline and Queen of the South has been stark. Just a few weeks ago the Pars’ form saw them in real danger of being sucked into a relegation battle, even more so given the resurgence of Falkirk and Partick Thistle, while Queens were firmly in the mix for a top-four finish.

Fast forward a few weeks and, after four wins and four shutouts on the bounce for Stevie Crawford’s men, and after five league defeats in a row for Queens, who boast the country’s top scorer Stephen Dobbie among their ranks, those fortunes have been completely reversed.

Saturday’s meeting between the sides ended in a 1-0 victory for Dunfermline, with Ryan Blair another successful January recruit by Crawford, scoring the only goal of the game. The victory lifts Dunfermline into fourth, while Queens find themselves just five points off the bottom. Worryingly for Gary Naysmith, all three teams behind them have a game in hand and the chance to exert more pressure.

It goes to show that even having a man who has scored 38 goals in 36 appearances, including four hat-tricks and a haul, isn’t enough to guarantee you survival, never mind a top-four finish.