|ALLY Maxwell and John BROWN: see what I did there?|
Tonight, Stenhousemuir’s players will have learned whether or not they have been offered terms for next season. Given the disappointing manner in which the Warriors’ season finished, it will be hugely interesting to see which players manager Davie Irons keeps and which ones he moves on.
There are many questions facing the manager – which players can take the club forward? Do players who played well earlier in the season but were poor after the New Year deserve to be kept? Are some of the players really worth the money they’re on? Do the players even want to stay?
I intend to examine and analyse the choices manager will make this evening by creating a simple list. The list is divided into three simple categories: KEEP, GO and MAYBE. KEEP and GO are fairly obvious categories, but the MAYBE category perhaps requires further explanation.
Players that fall into this section may have made substantial contributions over the course of the season but, for a number of reasons, I find I am unable to pass a suitable judgement over their futures – the heart may be ruling the head in some cases - and instead mitigate for both cases.
The list is by no means comprehensive: Eric Paton and Sean Dickson have been excluded as both players are midway through two-year contracts and are almost certain to stay with club for next term. I have also chosen to withhold opinion on a handful of youth players, simply because I haven’t seen them in action.
It would be unfair to comment as to whether or not they merit new contracts, so players such as Dean Shaw, Jamie O’Grady, Jack Hamilton, Michael Hunter, Kieran Anderson and Stuart Love are also excluded. These players only featured fleetingly, or have spent the season elsewhere on-loan.
Instead, I've chosen to focus solely on the 15 first team players. What will tonight hold for them?
Ally Brown - MAYBE
Brown is one of the most frustrating players at Stenhousemuir. While some of his performances have been astonishing (most notably in the 1-1 draw with East Fife), at times he has looked cack-handed and indecisive. At his worst, Brown has been directly responsible for a number of goals, including monstrosities against Arbroath, Albion Rovers and Airdrie United.
This season, Brown’s position has rarely been under threat because of the lack of genuine competition at the club. Before his contract was torn up, Chris McCluskey spent the majority of the season either injured or sulking on the sidelines, while the likes of Dean Shaw and Sean Diamond are too raw and inexperienced to provide a genuine alternative.
If Irons chooses to persist with Brown, a solid, experienced deputy 'keeper must be enlisted alongside him to provide competition. If the manager chooses to release him, most fans will greet the news with an indifferent shrug.
Alan Lawson - KEEP
A player of rich potential, Alan Lawson is perhaps the most promising youngster at Stenhousemuir. Despite a series of mixed performances in mid-season, the defender surely deserves the opportunity to adapt to the hurly-burly of the Second Division and develop into a quality fullback.
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Martyn Corrigan - MAYBE
Despite missing the whole of pre-season with an injured hand, Corrigan quickly forged a strong defensive partnership with Ross McMillan and played a crucial part in Stenhousemuir's bright start to the season.
The former Motherwell defender hasn’t played since mid-January after an ankle ligament injury curtailed his participation for the remainder of the season, and while it would be far-fetched to suggest his enforced absence was a major factor to the team’s poor showing throughout 2012, it certainly had an impact. Whether or not Corrigan wants to continue playing is another matter. He seems content enough coaching the first team and at 34, he appears to be approaching the end of his playing career.
If Irons wishes to keep Corrigan on, suitable cover for central defence must be sought for the beginning to next season.
Kevin McKinlay - GO
It’s difficult to recall are more lackadaisical player at Ochilview than Kevin McKinlay. Instead of the former Chelsea youth player with several years of First Division experience fans were expecting, they were routinely treated to careless performance after careless performance. McKinlay played as if he didn’t give a solitary fuck – and it certainly showed.
There have been numerous lowlights during his time with the club: the dismal performance in the 7-0 defeat against Ross County in the Scottish Cup; his dismissal against Dumbarton for throwing the ball away (compounded by the fact Stenhousemuir were already playing with ten men); and his sloppy, slipshod display against Forfar Athletic at the weekend.
There is undoubtedly talent and quality concerned in McKinlay somewhere, but it was rarely on display. Last summer, McKinlay’s signing was heralded as a significant coup but now many supporters couldn’t care less who he plays for next term.
Willie Lyle - MAYBE
12 months ago, Lyle deservedly won the club’s Player of the Year award and it seems absurd to think he may not be a part of Stenhousemuir next year.
At the start of the season, the club captain was playing well but form dipped badly around Christmas and didn’t really recover. Lyle last played for the Warriors around six weeks ago before picking up an injury and he was eventually replaced by loan signing Nicky Devlin, who brought drive and urgency to the right flank.
If Lyle does leave Stenhousemuir, it will be with a sense of loss. A popular player and a thoroughly genuine guy off the park, his presence in and around the club will be sorely missed.
Ross McMillan - KEEP
There isn’t really much to write about McMillan – the man has been one of the club’s outstanding performers over the course of the season and is certain to be offered a new contract. Watching him play, it’s difficult to believe he has only spent two years in senior football. McMillan reads the game intelligently and plays with poise and strength.
The 29-year-old has proved himself to be one of the best defenders at the club since Greig Denham and is certain to be a central figure at Ochilview next term.
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Brown Ferguson - KEEP
When he joined the Stenhousemuir from Alloa in the summer, a number of fans were concerned about Ferguson’s poor injury record and questioned whether or not he could make a strong contribution over the course of the season.
Bomber has proved to be one of the team’s most assured players and has brought a steadiness to Stenhousemuir’s midfield. When he plays, his economical displays are rarely noticed – it’s only in his absence that Ferguson’s ability is truly appreciated.
After scoring in three consecutive league matches at the start of the season, Ferguson was briefly nicknamed “El Gol”. He also has the biggest calf muscles I’ve ever seen.
Paul McHale - GO
Although he has effectively been expelled from the club, it is likely McHale will be in attendance at Ochilview tonight. The player is still officially contracted to Stenhousemuir but it is hugely unlikely he’ll be offered terms for next season.
Although no-one at the club has yet to provide a suitable reason for the player’s dismissal, several sources have suggested McHale has branched out and has started working as an agent and a scout. When he told his manager he wouldn’t be able to dedicate as much of his time to Stenhousemuir because of his new work commitments, Irons told him to “stay away from the club”. There is a certain degree of irony in there, I’m sure you’ll be aware.
Regardless, McHale would have been one of the first players to leave Stenhousemuir. Beyond a handful of reasonably strong performances, he did virtually nothing to justify his handsome wages and drifted through games with little consequence.
Iain Thomson - KEEP
Your knobbly knees, your ginger hair, your Edinburgh accent... You’re Iain Thomson!
Unfussy and economical with the ball and hardworking and industrious without it, Thomson entirely deserved to win Stenhousemuir’s Player of the Year award. Alongside a fine series of performances, the midfielder contributed a number of important goals, including the opening goal in a 3-2 away win over Forfar Athletic and the opening goal in the 2-1 home victory against Brechin City.
Thomson has been a popular player with his managers at Ochilview – John Coughlin signed him on two occasions, for Berwick and for Stenhousemuir, while Irons continually refers to the midfielder as a “catalyst” – and it is highly likely he will be offered a new contract for next season.
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Joseph McCafferty - GO
The young midfielder was drafted into the club after an impressive a trial period at the beginning of the season but other than a handful of mediocre appearances, he has failed to make a significant impact at the club.
His legacy – if you can even call it such a thing – will be his father engaging in an argument with supporters after a listless performance against Stirling Albion.
McCafferty also looks like a giant bat.
Stevie Murray - MAYBE
Murray is perhaps one of the most skilful and exciting players to have played at for Stenhousemuir but like Willie Lyle, his form badly tailed off after Christmas to the point where he became a rather peripheral figure.
Before Christmas, Murray was a central figure in Stenhousemuir’s attack but since picking up an knock in the New Year game at Stirling Albion, he has been dogged by injury and has lacked the ability to influence games as before.
Throughout his career, the winger has had the tendency to do “everything and nothing” when in possession but in recent months, he has erred towards the latter. If Murray can improve his fitness then he will be a strong asset. Whether or not he is afforded the time is another matter.
Stewart Kean - MAYBE
Stewart Kean has become a popular player over the course of the season with his doggedness and hard work yielding 11 goals.
Many bemoan the player’s poor touch and technique – there have been numerous occasions over the course of the season when the player has found himself in threatening positions, only to be let down by a lack of skill and finesse. What Kean lacks in ability, however, he more than makes up for in energy but, as one fan pointed out, hard work and industry is the very minimum supporters should be expecting from their players.
There are surely more efficient alternatives available. Kean is an honest and amiable guy but perhaps more is required in order to move the club forward.
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Andy Rodgers - KEEP
The club's top scorer this season – 17 goals in 38 appearances is a fine return – Andy Rodgers is arguably in the finest form of his career. Despite some doubts when he initially joined the club (one fan held a genuine belief the player “hated” Stenhousemuir following a number of saucy displays for Ayr United last year), Rodgers has shown a new maturity and has developed into a fine lower-league forward.
While he can still be eminently frustrating – he rarely contests aerial duels and is sometimes alarmingly profligate in front of goal – his stunning overhead kick against East Fife is widely regarded as one of the finest goals scored at Ochilview. The technique and sheer audacity he displayed in that moment is still utterly remarkable.
Rodgers was rumoured to be joining Paul Hartley’s upwardly mobile Alloa Athletic but the player was quick to refute any such fanciful notions via Twitter (he dismissed the tittle-tattle as “complete fabrication”) and expressed his enthusiasm to move forward with the club.
Grant Plenderleith - GO
Plenderleith will have probably spent the majority of the season feeling hard done-by. At the start of the season, Irons pledged the player would make a positive impact over the course of the campaign but rarely utilised him, eventually sending him on-loan to Bo’ness United.
In March, he won the Stenhousemuir £2500 pounds in Ramsden’s Dash for Cash competition. On the Stenhousemuir fans’ forum, a member called “Weeman” posts with an increasing bitterness about how Plenderleith was unfairly treated by the club over the affair – they didn’t want to play him but they were happy enough to take his prize money.
Beyond his pace, there is little for Plenderleith to truly offer the team. It’s perhaps in the player’s best interest he starts afresh at a new club.
In the past, the club have tended to announce which players have been offered terms and which players have been released between 9pm and 10pm. The announcement will be made on their website - make sure you're connected to the world wide web for that.