So, was that a season of overachievement or underachievement? I guess it depends on whether you’re a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of person.
Ten months ago, I’d have been content with survival. I did think we were better than that – my prediction was a hard-fought tenth-place finish – but in reality, coming up to the Championship after four years in League One, consolidation was the watchword.
Of course, as it transpired, relegation never threatened. It never even looked like threatening – even when Alex Neil walked out after a handful of games.
In previous seasons, under previous regimes, that could have completely derailed us; the smooth transition from Neil to Tony Mowbray meant we continued barely missing a beat.
Injuries, of course, took their toll. If you’d told me at the start of the season we’d get into the playoffs despite Ross Stewart missing more than three-quarters of the season, Corry Evans missing half and Danny Batth, Dan Ballard, Elliot Embleton, Dennis Cirkin, Aji Alese and many more missing significant stretches I’d have been tempted to summon the fellas in white coats.
The fact we did manage without them – and managed without a genuine striker for half the season – speaks volumes.
Would the team have generated such a great team spirit had they not been faced with adversity? Who knows.
Would the likes of Trai Hume and Pierre Ekwah have developed into the players they’ve become without those injuries creating opportunities for them? Probably not.
Would Amad, Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts have had such impressive seasons under the management of Alex Neil? It’s unlikely.
Would we have been better off if we’d have brought in a striker or two in January?
I reckon so.
We all hoped it wouldn’t impact us, and it’s impossible to say for certain how much it did, but last night was the perfect example of where a ‘proper’ striker would have helped. We couldn’t get the ball to stick up front, we couldn’t get out and we certainly missed the aerial presence in defence Ross Stewart provides.
It’s not about the goalscoring necessarily, it’s about how the game plays out, and last night was one of the admittedly rare occasions we’ve been visibly lacking up top.
Glass half full or half empty? I’m generally the former, and playing without a striker has forced players to take responsibility for goals. We’ve had to be inventive, creative, and if we can take that into next season – with a fit Ross Stewart or AN Other leading the line, we could reap rewards.
All in all, I’ve loved this season – it’s been one the best I can remember watching the lads, particularly in the face of the adversity we’ve faced.
Tony Mowbray’s done magnificently well on the whole – I’d be sorry to see him depart if the club did decide to go in a different direction, but even if he does I don’t think we’ll deviate much if at all from how we’re approaching the football side of things. The club’s structured so the ‘head coach’ role is fairly interchangable.
As much as it - for whatever frankly bizarre reason – sticks in the craw of some, Kristjaan Speakman’s done a magnificent job with the footballing side of things at the club, and the key now is to keep as much of it together as possible, on and off the field and build on it for next season.
The recruitment’s been exceptionally good – bar the lack of that striker in January, which wasn’t for the lack of trying – and it’s important to remember that, had Alex Neil got his way (which many people were critical of the club for not giving him), we certainly wouldn’t have seen the likes of Patterson, Hume, Neil, Roberts, Amad, Ekwah and Michut get anywhere near as much game time as they subsequently did.
There are sliding door moments in football, and for the club to steadfastly stick to it’s vision in that instance is one we’ve reaped the reward of this season – and hopefully will do for years to come.
So, as the dust settles, it’s time to breathe, take stock, and reflect on what’s been a superb season.
Yes, things could have been different. They could have been different in either direction.
Yes, we’ve missed out on a great opportunity to go up (campaigns that teams who get fewer than 70 points get into the playoffs are few and far between), but the many youngsters in the squad have gained significant, valuable experience – and we’ll be an even better team next season.
So as a glass-half-full person, I’ll say cheers lads – you’ve given us a season to remember.
And I suspect this is only the beginning.