John Coughlin’s right hand man at Berwick Rangers, Myles Allan insists that this season will see youth come to the fore as the Borderers prepare for another tough and competitive campaign in League Two.
Allan, who is from Dunfermline and a former manager himself with Burntisland Shipyard, began his Berwick career when he was brought in as a scout.
“While I was the manager of Burntisland Shipyard, I got to know Colin Cameron as his daughter and my daughter are in the same year at school. When he left Cowdenbeath, I got him along to train with us at Burntisland and he made an appearance for us a few days before he got the Berwick Rangers job! A few months later, after I had resigned from my position at Burntisland, I had one Saturday off then the next week, I started watching the opposition for Colin. The following season, I also started co-managing the Under-20’s with Neil Oliver as well as continuing the work I was doing with the opposition reports. After Colin left, I took charge of one game on a caretaker basis, then, John Coughlin took over. The gaffer asked me at the start of last season if I wanted to get involved with the first-team, which I was delighted to do and that is where I am now, as Assistant Manager.”
Admittedly, last season was an underachievement for the Borderers.
“Especially after the first quarter, and I know it wasn’t great, but, we were in the top four for the whole of that quarter – you would say that is a decent start and you are looking to build on that. To be honest, quarter two was a bit of a disaster, from a points perspective. The suspensions we had last season is what crippled us. We went through a real phase, in that first half of the season anyway. Where we picked up far too many red cards. When you can’t put out a consistent team due to suspensions, then, you get inconsistency in performance and that is when results begin to suffer, also. That is what really killed us. Quarter 3; we picked up again and having looked back at it a few days ago, I think it was the same amount of points as we had achieved in the first quarter. However, we got dragged back into it again in the last quarter and we went into that last game of the season knowing that if results went against us, we were in trouble. Thankfully we never, we put in a decent performance against Edinburgh [City], especially in the first half. Cowdenbeath never got the result they needed anyway so we were never in danger, but, overall, I would agree that last season was a disappointment.”
6 players have left Berwick this summer, with the Wee Rangers gaffer John Coughlin deciding that an overhaul in the squad was required.
“Clearly, if you finish third bottom of the league, and your aspirations are for higher than that, then, you need to make changes,” explains Allan. “If you keep doing the same things with the same players that you already had, then, the chances are you are going to finish third bottom next season again. We felt a few changes would be helpful, but, in saying that, man for man, looking at games from last season, we felt there was very small margins between a defeat and a draw or a draw and a victory. We think the foundations of a successful squad is in place, we have a lot of very good players, but, we will be bringing in a lot of youngsters – the squad is going to be a very young squad. With that, though, you get hunger, determination, energy, enthusiasm and there is certainly no shortage of technical ability either.”
After a successful loan spell at in League Two, Euan Spark has attracted the interest of higher up clubs, with the former Dundee United and Dunfermline man being snapped up by Brechin City. In reflection, Allan comments:
“Bringing in loan players is common practise in League Two. You need to maximise your budget as much as you can. They have clearly got something about them if they are playing for a team like Dunfermline, Hibs, Dundee United. If a player like Sparky is going to come in and play well and we get the benefit of that for 4 or 5 months then it benefits both parties. We would’ve loved to have kept him but he had the opportunity of playing at a much higher level, in the Championship, and also he is a local boy, he is from Brechin, so it is probably a good move for him in the end. The loan market certainly doesn’t allow for continuity but if you can get players in for the full season, it is certainly a big help. For example, we have just signed Andrew Irving from Hearts. He has only just turned 17 but we rate him very highly. He has been involved with Scotland at youth level only a few months ago and has been around the Under-20’s scene for a few seasons now too and we, along with Hearts, feel the time is right for him to make that next step and we are thoroughly delighted to have Andrew on board.”
Two key players in which Coughlin and Allan have been able to retain at Shielfield are Greg Rutherford and Steven Thomson.
“Thommo has certainly adapted extremely well from junior football. His technical ability is phenomenal. If he has a season like he did last season, then he will certainly have an important part to play. Greg, as well: his work rate is outstanding. Sometimes his goal return doesn’t match his effort and the work he does for the team – sometimes he was up there playing on his own but he is capable of that, he can keep two or three centre-halves busy on his own. Again, he will also have a big part to play for us. We are also looking to add another couple of forward players that will take that burden off Greg and Steven, as well.”
Allan added: “There will probably be 5 or 6 of our squad who could still play Under-20’s football. There are experienced players around the squad as well though – Pat Scullion; Steven Notman, even Darren Lavery, who, is certainly not old by any stretch of the imagination but, he has a lot of experience in terms of the amount of games he has played for Berwick. We will have that strong spine, with the younger guys round about them is what we are looking and aiming for. The Under-20’s had a great year last season; we were challenging right at the top of the East Development League. This season we have already promoted Jack Cook to the first-team squad from the Under-20’s and it is now up to him to see if he can get into the team and then stay there. The Under-20’s have actually been doing pre-season with us and a lot of our sessions are based around games. We have had a good look at the players who are with the Under-20’s and by all accounts, they are just as good, if not better, than last season.”
With pre-season training well underway, the players and management team are edging closer to that first competitive match which is now only 5 days away.
“Based on what we have seen this summer, the players are fitter now than they were last year at this point. The main fitness aspects are gained through playing matches, so we didn’t do many, if any, long runs without the ball, for example. Everything we have done is ball related as much as possible. We play our first friendly tomorrow (Tuesday) against Consett. Albeit, they aren’t a big named team to many Scottish football fans, we played them last season as well and they are a very good outfit. We will also be playing Morpeth on Saturday, and they will be exactly the same, also. Hibs are our third and final difficult friendly this close season – again, we played them last year at this stage also. We drew with them last year, in Neil Lennon’s first game for them, so, the final preparation work is in progress now for the start of the BetFred Cup.”
Allan views the BetFred Cup as a very challenging opening to the season for the League Two side.
“When you are a League Two club, progressing out of the early stages is always difficult, especially when you are up against two full-time sides. We need to look on it as continuing our preparation for the league campaign, to be honest, more than anything. We are unlikely to be getting to the final so we just need to try get out as much as we can from the games we do play in the competition. It’ll be a tough group, against the two full-time sides – Morton and Motherwell – as well as Queens Park who are a level above us and Edinburgh City who caused us problems last year, but, it it definitely a section we feel we can pick points up in as well.”
Lessons have been learnt by the management staff, however, in regards to what is required for the newly revamped competition which is heading into only it’s second year.
“We found last year, if we are honest, that, the intensity of those games – especially when you are playing the full-time sides -can take a lot out of the players. This season, we have taken one or two less friendly matches because of this. There was just too big a demand on part-time players to be able to do all of that. For us to get a break, on match day 3, isn’t a bad thing, to be fair. If we feel it is necessary, we might add in another friendly but at the minute, nothing has been done on that front. It will gives us a chance to rest guys, either way but we can only take judgements on these decisions closer to the time.”
As all managers and coaches have seemed to agree this summer, League Two is a very tight division to call an early favourite on.
“There is always a surprise or two – teams at the start of the season you anticipate will be in the top three or four, miss out, and there will be sides that surprise evryone: the ones that nobody talks about. We are likely one of the teams nobody is talking about to be challenging at the top end of the league next season, however, it is up to us to try and fly under the radar and get ourselves as high up the table as we can. I certainly wouldn’t make any bold predictions about who is going to be up there and who won’t though. As we all saw last season, there are a number of teams who could have went either way in the table and that was around February or March time. You are almost three quarters of the way through the season by then and you are talking about some teams potentially having a good season and reaching the promotion play-offs but on the other hand, perhaps, at the same time, they are also trying to avoid a relegation battle. It is such a tight league and when it is like that, there is no reason why it can’t happen again this term. I think however, all 10 teams will have the realistic aim and ambition of reaching the play-offs.”