The good news just keeps on coming for Edinburgh City and their supporters in this remarkable start to the season.
Ten wins in a row in all competitions, two points clear at the top of League Two, in the Irn-Bru Cup quarter-finals, and now it has been confirmed that James McDonaugh, the manager overseeing it all, has extended his contract by a further two years to 2021.
It is worth recalling that the former Hibs youth coach took the reins at Ainslie Park just over a year ago with City languishing second bottom of the table having lost six of their eight league matches. The contrast with the current situation is stark, with City having won eight of their nine league matches.
“I couldn’t have asked for any more, to be honest,” McDonaugh told the Evening News. We’ve been absolutely brilliant.
“To have won so many games at this stage is beyond our expectations. If we’d have been mid-table, I’d have been happy because that would have been progress.
“It’s not so much being top of the league that I’m delighted with, it’s the way we’ve done it. To have 24 points at the end of the first quarter is brilliant.
“At Falkirk (where McDonaugh was assistant to Peter Houston), we used to target 15 points per quarter in the Championship because that would have got you 60 points and into the play-offs. We’re nine points ahead of that at this stage, which is exceptional. We’ve only conceded three goals as well, so the players deserve all the credit they get.”
The obvious question, considering City finished in the bottom four in their two previous seasons in League Two, is what is behind the impressive turnaround?
“A lot of people ask why it’s gone so well but it’s been everything, really, from recruitment to what happens off the pitch. Every little change we’ve made behind the scenes,” said McDonaugh. “It’s been 100 different things as opposed to one specific thing.”
McDonaugh is reluctant to let marquee summer signings like Conrad Balatoni, September’s Ladbrokes Player of the Month for League Two, and former Hibs midfielder Danny Handling, hog the credit for the City upsurge.
“Handling and Balatoni have made a huge impact but it’s difficult to say they’ve made more of an impact than others,” said McDonaugh. “For instance, Blair Henderson is scoring a lot of goals and Andy Black is a bit of an unsung hero in the middle of the park. We’ve also still got a lot of players from last season who have got even better this year and kicked on to another level.
“Handling and Balatoni are the names people look at, and they have done well, but loads of people deserve credit. It’s unfair to try and single out one or two.”
With more established clubs like Peterhead and Clyde lurking in the two places immediately below City, McDonaugh is understandably not entertaining title talk just yet. “It’s probably too early for that,” he said. “We’ve surprised a lot of teams as underdogs so far but we need to see how we get on when we’re favourites in games. “If we’re still up there and challenging at Christmas time we’ll be delighted. If we’re in the top half at the end of the season, that would be great progress, but that’s not to say we’re not trying our best to win every game.”
After extending his contract, McDonaugh, clearly thriving in his first senior managerial role, will take on additional duties within the club’s academy. “The chairman had come to me a few weeks ago about getting the contract sorted, so it’s good,” he said.
“My role will be a wee bit different. I’m obviously still managing the team but I’ll also be helping with the youth set-up.
“I’ve been doing a lot of coaching round East Lothian and other places, helping out as much as I can, so it’s just a case of trying to bring that all together.
“I’ll oversee the coaching in the Edinburgh City youth teams and give them a hand in terms of what they do in training and things like that.
“It’s not quite full-time but it’s obviously more hours than I was doing before.”