After Edinburgh City secured their SPFL status last weekend, casual observers of the Ladbrokes League Two table this season may have viewed it as something of a miracle.
Three months before a first win since stepping up from the Lowland League via the SPFL Pyramid play-offs, many had written Gary Jardine’s team off as a novelty – first to win promotion on the pitch, but heading back where they came from soon enough.
Not the case. It was far from the cliched great escape for the Meadowbank club – the signs that they were to be nobody’s whipping boys have been there from the start.
Of those first 11 winless games, only two were lost by more than the odd goal. Both were away from home, at Elgin and Cowdenbeath respectively. Indeed Elgin were the only side to truly turn them over – 3-0 up after 20 minutes – while Cowden’s second goal in a 2-0 victory came via a last-minute counter.
City were competing, but second best in the fine margins where wins become draws and draws defeats. The turning point came in a November Scottish Cup replay at Forfar, where a Ross Allum goal brought their first ever win as an SPFL side.
That was followed up with a maiden victory in Montrose days later and they never looked back, going unbeaten until after the New Year and rising to sixth in the table.
Then followed a levelling off of sorts – no long unbeaten or winless runs, but that competitiveness and a habit of grinding out results when it truly mattered means the capital will continue to host three league clubs.
Operating with easily the smallest budget in the division, recruitment is not only difficult but vital, and is where Jardine has excelled. To a tight-knit squad he incorporated not only experience, but real pedigree.
Former Scotland internationals Craig Beattie and Derek Riordan are the headline names, but in Marc Laird and Josh Walker, City added an extra creative dimension in midfield. Teenage centre back Ryan Porteous took league football in his stride after joining on loan from Hibs, making vital contributions at both ends of the pitch. Easter Road team–mate Lewis Allan has chipped in with key goals, but more tellingly, took on the physical burden that allowed the older legs of Beattie and Riordan to be better utilised. Goals scored by the new recruits have contributed to 21 points accumulated since January.
Despite that extra firepower, City’s survival was built on defence. The second best defensive record in the division [behind only title-chasing Arbroath] meant the majority of the 35 goals scored to date [fewest in League Two] have been worth points.
That said, finding the net with more regularity will be a priority next season, having been the lowest scorers in Britain at one stage. For that, reinforcements will be required. Allan is likely to return to Hibs and Beattie and Riordan are both out of contract, although the former is keen to stay. The retirement of Dougie Gair, below, means Jardine loses his captain, penalty taker and scorer of important goals all at once, but the return of Ouzy See from injury should offset the loss somewhat.
Defensively, Joe Mbu’s surprise admission that could play on pending successful knee surgery would be a huge boost given his physical presence and organisational influence. Porteous, however, is clearly destined for bigger things, if not pushing for first-team involvement at Hibs then another loan further up the SPFL food chain than League Two.
Looking ahead, the basis of a very effective squad remains for Jardine, and with a (much) faster start to the season, City’s ambitions should be loftier than mere survival come August.