Queen of the South Assistant Manager Dougie Anderson is looking forward to another competitive Championship campaign as he and Gary Naysmith gear up for a push towards the play-offs.
It was in December of 2016 that Anderson joined the Dumfries side, instantly being re-united with former colleague Naysmith, after the pair worked together at East Fife.
“I had been with the gaffer for the whole time he was at East Fife – initially I was First Team Coach before becoming Assistant Manager. I think that helped [the transition of moving to a new team]. I think when we went in, to begin with, they were on the back of 8 defeats so confidence was low but we still saw enough potential, in terms of, Dobbie and Lyle, and guys like that, that could score goals; but a bit of a freshness was also needed, hence why we brought in the signings we did, in the January Transfer Window. We had to act quickly and got these guys in to make an impact and I think they did make a difference in the second half of last season.”
After a final day defeat in Dumfries to Dunfermline, it confined Queens into 6th in the Championship table.
“We were disappointed, to be honest [at finishing in 6th]. I thought for, quite a period, we were on the coattails of the play-offs. We hit a bad run of form, at a really bad time. We couldn’t get anywhere near the play-offs, in the end. After we couldn’t achieve that, our next goal was to finish fifth. I think the game which cost us the most was at home to Dumbarton – it was a really disappointing performance. The game against Dunfermline, I thought we played really well and they scored in injury time when we needed to win. The league table doesn’t like,” says Anderson, “but I think, as a management team, we were a little bit disappointed that we didn’t finish higher.”
Despite the disappointment of a late goal and a last day defeat in front of their own supporters, Anderson doesn’t believe there will be a hangover going into the new season.
“As much as that result was disappointing, you quickly put that to bed. I don’t think it’ll affect us going into a new season. There’s been a massive turnover in players. However, what it did do, I think, is typify our season: we continually gave away poor goals. We dominate for large parts of the game, create chances, not take them and then losing a comical goal to lose the match.”
13 players have left Palmerston Park over the summer with only a handful of replacements having been brought in, so far.
“I think when you go into a new team, you want to bring in your own type of player to help you play your own brand of football. It is difficult when you go in half way through a season – of that 13, a lot of the guys are from the Under-20’s; the manager has been honest with them, that, it is a very, very, high standard to go from the Under-20’s at Queen of the South to playing in the Scottish Championship. He is just trying to help them find new clubs as in our opinion, they won’t be able to challenge for a place in a Scottish Championship first-team, at present at least. I think the majority of the senior players [that have been released] had been at Queen of the South for a number of years too and it was felt the squad needed a freshness for the season ahead.”
Two of the senior players departing are long serving and experienced defenders, Chris Higgins – who has joined Ayr – and Andy Dowie, who yesterday, signed for Dumbarton.
“Both Andy and Chris have served the club brilliantly,” states Anderson, “and I think the manager was maybe looking for someone a bit younger, who is just starting their career. I am sure Andy and Chris will do well at their new clubs, they are both very good professionals. I think, to be honest, they may have needed a little bit of a freshness as well and I am positive that in their new environments, it’ll kick their careers on again.”
Andy Stirling and Alan Martin have been brought in from Dumbarton while Callum Fordyce has joined from Dunfermline.
“We have a budget that we are working too and that means we have a certain market to look at. I think Andy and Alan have done a brilliant job on a part-time basis at Dumbarton; they have shown they can handle the Championship no problem. We hope that them going back into full-time football will kick them on again: they both have aspirations, they wanted to go back full-time and they wanted to join the club. Callum was a bit unfortunate with injuries, at Dunfermline. Allan [Johnston – Dunfermline manager] is building his own squad and has got a good group of centre-backs, but, we were surprised when Callum got released. We went for him straight away: he’s a good age, a good type and similarly, I think he also has something to prove. I think he will be an astute signing for us. We are always looking but we are quite content with the squad building at the moment. We will be running with a small squad – the budget dictates that. We’ve got to look for real value; we are looking for versatility, such as Callum, who can play centre-back and right-back. We are hopeful of bringing in another defender [since the interview, Shaun Rooney has signed with Queen of the South from York City] and thereafter, we are only looking at another 2 or 3, so we are quite happy waiting until the right person comes along.”
Pre-Season begins in earnest for most clubs with the BetFred Cup just over a month away.
“Pre-Season training begins on Monday the 19th of June. We are really looking forward to it. It’ll give Gary and myself more time to work with the players, compared to when we were at East Fife – however, in saying that, it wasn’t a million miles away from being full-time (in terms of, they were in 3 nights a week plus a double session on a Saturday) so, we are absolutely raring to go. It gives us extra time to work on things – the players will work hard, it’ll be structured but, it’ll allow us to implement the way we want to play for the season ahead.”
Queen of the South have been drawn into Group G of the BetFred Cup, alongside Albion Rovers, Stehousemuir, Hamilton Accies and Lowland League side East Kilbride.
“I think it is a good group for us – they’ll all be tough games. I think Brown Ferguson [manager of Stenhousemuir] has recruited really well, I think they’ll be a stronger team than they were last year. We always knew there was a chance we would draw at least one of the teams we had arranged friendlies with. It is the same with everyone, so, the gaffer moved quickly and we’ve arranged a match away to Cowdenbeath now. The change won’t harm our pre-season preparation at all – we’ve now got our three confirmed pre-season games and are ready to go.”
“It is similar with Brian Kerr at Albion Rovers – he has lost a lot of players but recruited well. I don’t know much about East Kilbride – they won the Lowland League at a canter and gave Cowdenbeath a real tough test in the play-offs. By then, we will hopefully have a lot of players battling for places, so, I don’t think there is any major pressure on us – we just need to handle it as if it is a normal game. They will all be good challenges but especially against Hamilton, as we can then test ourselves away to Premiership opposition.”
Queen of the South will miss out on match day 4 of the BetFred Cup, meaning they have got seven days to prepare in between games, which Anderson only sees as a benefit.
“It is the exact opposite of what we had at East Fife, where we had to play both Tuesday’s. That makes it really difficult for the players as they are coming off an intense pre-season with a small squad, so it is difficult to rotate people. By that fourth game, on the Tuesday, the players were absolutely done. So, from Gary and I’s point of view, it is good to get into a routine of a ‘normal’ Monday to Friday training session heading into a game on a Saturday, so we are very happy with the way the draw has worked out for us in that respect.”
Hibs, Raith and Ayr have all departed the Championship, with Inverness, Brechin and Livingston joining for season 2017/18.
“I think it is good that Hibs are going out of the league – they were very strong, they are a Scottish Premiership club. They were tough opposition who thoroughly deserved to win the league. I don’t think, without being disrespectful, that any team in the league this year will be as good as them in terms of strength and depth. I think it is going to be a competitive league, as it always is. With Livingston coming up, especially as a full-time team, they’ll be looking to stabalise and kick on. I also think St Mirren will be up there as well – I know they were at the bottom of the league for the majority of last season, but, they were in a false position in my opinion. If you accumulated the points, from when Jack Ross came in, they were probably second, behind Hibs, so it shows how good a job Jack has done and with the additions they’ve made, I expect them to be very strong next season too, alongside Dunfermline, who were strong last year and have added well also this summer so far.”
Play-Offs are the aim for Queens as they hope to better their 6th place finish of last season.
“I think the play-offs will be the aspirations of the majority of clubs in the Championship. It isn’t going to be easy – you have got Dundee United, St Mirren, Dunfermline, Falkirk, Inverness and Morton, they are all going to be looking to be up there. There isn’t much between the teams – on any given day, anyone can beat anyone. You’ve got to be ambitious and that is where we are setting our sights – we want to be in that top four come the end of next season. I think it is very difficult to get out of the Championship, as Dundee United have shown this season. They are a big club with big resources and they couldn’t quite do it, but I think you need to have that ambition [of getting to the Premiership]. In terms of what we want to achieve at Queen of the South, we have to keep making positive strides and improving the club, such as adding things that weren’t always there in the past. We will continue to work within the resources we have got, to provide as professional and competitive a club as possible.”