Alloa boss Jim Goodwin is confident his side can cause an opening day upset in the BetFred Cup as the Wasps prepare to travel up to Dingwall on Saturday for the first competitive match of the season against Premiership side Ross County.
Goodwin went part-time as a player with Alloa last summer but he was soon in the hot seat at the Indodrill Stadium.
“i wanted to stay full-time and going part-time came a little sooner than I expected, to be honest. I felt I had a year or two left in me at full-time level, but, the offers I was receiving just weren’t financially viable so I took the decision, along with my wife, to go part-time instead of delaying the inevitable. It allowed me to get a foot in as well as looking at jobs outside of football also. I had a number of options at part-time level but once I had spoken to Jack Ross and a couple of people who had been at Alloa before, as well as looking at they way the club is run and the squad they had with the quality of player in it ticked all the boxes for me. I felt it was a team who can go and compete and ultimately win the league, but unfortunately we fell a bit short with Livingston being so strong.”
Goodwin continued: “It was difficult for me, I must admit, going from a player to a manager to begin with. You”re a team-mate one week and good pals with the boys in the dressing room to being the gaffer and making tough decisions, upsetting peiple and so on…it took me a month possibly to get my head round it all and take myself out the dressing room to focus on being a member of staff but I felt once I got my thoughts and ideas across to the players and they got their head round it, we were fine. They were a really good squad, there is no egos in the dressing room. They appreciated the challenge I had ahead of me and the challenges I faced and they all tried to help me out as best as they possibly could so I can’t thank them enough for that.”
In the end, the Wasps fell at the last hurdle with Brechin City winning the play-off final on penalties to get promotion to the Championship.
“My goals and my ambitions at the start of the season was the same as the club and that was to get promotion and unfortunately we fell short of that. It might not look too bad in the history books that we finished second by a bit of a distance from the teams below us but ultimately we lost out on penalties and that is what last season will be remembered for. I felt we were a better team than Brechin but they done just enough over the two legs, to be honest. I don’t think we played as good as we could have played in the first leg and then we played great in the second leg but conceded a couple of sloppy goals; these things happen and while it took a few weeks to get over it, I don’t like living in the past and wondering what could have been – we have got to get our midnset right again this season, in terms of what we have to do to terms of what we want to achieve and that is going to be even tougher this year with three full-time teams in the division rather than just two.”
Over the summer, Alloa have lost 10 players, with key names such as Greig Spence, Jordan Kirkpatrick and Calum Waters all departing Clackmannanshire for pastures new.
“Out of the ten that we have lost, 7 of them was my choice. Of course we wanted to hold on to our best players but we knew after the seasons they had that teams would be looking at them. Calum, for example, when a team like Kilmarnock comes in, we as a club will not stand in his way: We were very good to Calum, we didn’t want him to miss out on this opportunity. We could’ve dug our heels in and demanded money from Kilmarnock but we aren’t that kind of club. The Chairman and the Board are good people, they realise the opportunity Calum has to progress his career whereas, with Jordan and Greig, they are over 23 so they have the right to leave if they want to for free. We knew about Jack Ross’ interest in Jordan a few months before the end of the season, to be honest, and I was liasoning with him just so I knew exactly where thing were while with Greig, he always had ambitions of going back full-time and with; Raith is handy for him as it isn’t too far to travel and he feels he is young enough to do that. They were three key players but I have every faith in the players I have brought in to replace them.”
6 players have been added to this seasons first-team pool, while youngsters will also get their chance as the campaign progresses.
“I’m not afraid to give youth a chance – I have shown that with Adam Martin last season; I have got Declan McDonald this season and I have 2 or 3 others who are pushing hard and will have a good future in the game too. However, no matter where I have been in my career – whether it be down south or at St Mirren –the success of these squads has also been a good group of solid, experienced, professionals and when you look at the options we have this season: our spine of the team this season; in goals we have, Neil Parry or Craig McDowall; at centre-half we have Frank McKeown, Andy Graham or Daryll Meggatt, middle of the park I have got John Robertson and up front we have Kris Renton, Garry Fleming and Craig Malcolm so I have lads who can play the game and they understand the physical side of the game too which I think is very important in this division. There is a time and a place for youngsters and I will pick and choose when I think is right for these boys to be put in but my main focus on the recruitment side was mainly to get guys in who know this division, know how to get out of it and have had success in this league before. Garry Fleming, for example, has spent 5 or 6 years at Dumbarton in the league above; Craig Malcolm is a 20-goal-a-season man and without being disrespectful, if he can do that in a struggling Stranraer side then I fully believe in our team, where we hope he will get more chances, he can score even more goals. Then you also have Daryll Meggatt who has been here before and knows what the club is all about. None of the players we have brought in this summer are gambles as I don’t think you can take on too many gambles. I like guys who are tried and tested; I like guys I can trust. I do a lot of background checks to see what they are like as people. I think football is poor at that, unlike what businesses do. You need to get the characters right – there’ll be different backgrounds – but you want to know they have had good groundings and are going to respect each other.”
Goodwin is content with the squad he has assembled but is still looking for one more defender.
“If the season was to start tomorrow – and, to be fair, it is starting on Saturday – and this was the squad of players I had to go for throughout the season then I would be more than happy but I am always looking to improve and I have room in the budget to bring in one or two more. I am not willing to bring people in for the sake of ti and I won’t bring guys in who will hinder the youngsters already here from getting their chance in the first-team. I think we have options all over the place but, if there was one position I think we are a little light on then it’d be defence – whether that is central defence or on the full-backs, then that is something we would possibly look into bringing in a loan player for. We have got a lot of good young players all over the park but defence is probably the one area we haven’t got any cover in just yet.”
This was Goodwin’s first pre-season in charge and the 35-year-old was wary of overworking the players too much as the Irishman prepares his troops for action in the BetFred Cup this weekend.
“In the 3 or 4 weeks that the players had off, it is very difficult to lose the majority of the fitness you have from the previous season so, I was more concerned about the lack of recovery time for the players who played in the play-off final so we are trying not to overload them, but, then, there are others in the group who have needed more intensive training. We are delighted overall, especially with the new signings coming in as fit as they have and they are fitting in well. Everyone seems to be really enjoying it: I am not a manager who isn’t open to opinions. We had a meeting at the start of the season and I think it is something we don’t do enough of in football, either. We don’t discuss how things are going or what we could do differently but that is what I am trying to develop in our group – by that, I mean players and staff. I want us to be singing off the same hymn sheet. If there is anything the lads aren’t happy with or feel can be done differently, that will make us better, then I am open to discussing it. I am not saying player power will rule as not every demand they make will be granted but a sensible discussion is always something I feel should be done regularly. I love lads coming and talking to me and voicing their opinion. I think it is healthy and it is something I encourage. I am delighted with my coaching staff too – I was privileged to inherit Jack’s coaching staff and in the summer I could’ve moved one or two of them on and brought my own staff in but I am happy with how everything is going and it is great we are here together again this season.”
Goodwin agrees with the bookies that the early favourites for the division have to be the full-time clubs.
“Raith and Ayr for example will have much bigger budgets. We cannot be naive enough to think we are as big a club as them because on their day they can attract anything up to two or three thousand fans. They have big stadiums, nice facilities, good pitch… I think the bookies have it right. However, at the same time, we won’t make life easy for them: sometimes players and managers can’t take the pressure and expectation – I am sure these teams’ fans and Board members are expecting them to win the league so it will be interesting to see how they cope with that. For teams like us, we will raise our games against these teams as it is a big day out going there. We will just concentrate and focus on our own job and not worry too much about anyone else in this league. If we can do that, I don’t think we will have too bad a season.”
Before all of that, Goodwin and his Alloa side will participate in the BetFred Cup. The Wasps manager gave us his thoughts on the draw.
“To be honest, if I could have picked a match day for us to miss out on, it would have been on of the Tuesday fixtures. Midweek fixtures can be difficult for part-time teams as there could be a bit of travelling involved as all the lads are at work where they have other commitments and need to try arrange time off so, if I was able to decide when we had our break, I would have chosen it to have been either the first or second Tuesday. Having the Saturday off will give us time to work on things over the weekend in preparation for the match on the Tuesday. I really like the competition and it’s format – I know some of the bigger teams use it as pre-season, still, but, we take every competition we enter seriously and that is why we came back when we did, to give us a good month of work before we go into the Ross County game on Saturday. I think our group is very tough; we have 2 Premiership teams to deal with whereas most others only have one but that is just the way the draw has worked. Nobody expects us to finish first or second but we caused a few upsets last year and we will look to do so again this summer.”
Goodwin’s side were drawn against Saturday’s opponents in last season’s group section, also, with Alloa coming out as 3-2 winners against Jim McIntyre’s men.
“It is a cup competition at the end of the day, so, anything can happen. We have a really good confidence amongst and within the group. We won’t be overawed on Saturday, I can promise that. We aren’t kidding ourselves on and thinking we are a better team than Ross County, because we aren’t, but, on our day, if we get our formation right, we are set up well tactically and we make the right selections then we will be stood in good stead. We would’ve preferred the game to be at home because a lot of teams don’t like coming and playing on the astroturf pitch, but it is at their patch and they will rightly be the bookies favourites. However, if we play to the levels I know we are capable of, we could easily cause an upset.”