A year ago, Darren Dods’ Brechin City were battling to avoid being relegated to League Two. Tonight, they begin their bid for promotion to the Championship.
Brechin go up against Raith Rovers in the first leg of a double-header with the Fife club having clinched fourth place in League One and with it the final play-off place.
It’s a tie which brings Dods face-to-face with his former Hibs team-mate John Hughes, the pair occupying the dug-outs at Glebe Park with the Brechin boss insisting all the pressure is on the Kirkcaldy outfit.
Dods, however, admitted the odds favour Raith in what are essentially two cup finals in just three days, placing a huge demand on his part-time players and the fact the game is taking place tonight rather than last night as he’d asked has, he believes, also counting against his side.
But, nevertheless, Dods retains the hope that Brechin can pull of something of a shock over the course of the next few days, although even taking care of Raith would leave his players facing another play-off between Alloa Athletic and Airdrie, the sides which finished second and third respectively in League One.
He said: “It’s a big ask for part-time players to go on a Wednesday night, work Thursday and Friday and then go again on the Saturday against a full-time side.
“We were asked which day we preferred and said Tuesday but got tonight instead. We usually train Tuesday and Thursday, but we had the boys in Monday night instead this week.
“We played Raith in a pre-season friendly which they won 2-0, but there’s been a lot of changes since then.
“The first play-off game being at home gives us a chance to get a positive result, if we can do that then we’ll see what the return game at Stark’s Park brings.”
Dods’ contention that all the pressure is on Hughes and his players as he revealed he’d seen his old team-mate’s rant on Raith TV following their 5-0 thrashing by St Mirren.
He said: “I was only 18 or 19 at Hibs, but Yogi was a player with loads of experience. He was always quite vocal, he had quite a few stories to tell, but he was also quick to give you good advice.
“It will be good to come up against him now we are both in management. He did a great job at Inverness Caley, winning the Scottish Cup and getting them into a good position in the league.
“I saw his rant last week but he was probably thinking what a lot of managers would have been thinking under the circumstances. He probably just felt it had come to the stage where he had to come out and have a go at them in public to see what reaction he’d get.”
Hughes’ criticism resulted in a 2-1 victory which confirmed Ayr United’s relegation, even although Raith were reduced to ten men after just four minutes when goalkeeper Pavol Penksa was red carded, ruling him out of tonight’s match.
It wasn’t, however, enough to pull Rovers out of the relegation play-off spot, leaving them with these nerve shredding matches against Brechin.
After the trauma of last season when Brechin only managed to avoid the drop by winning their final two games, Dods admitted he was delighted to have clinched a play-off place with a 1-1 draw against Stenhousemuir at the weekend, although on loan Hibs striker Oli Shaw did give him a few anxious minutes with his equaliser which wasn’t enough to prevent the Warriors slipping into League Two.
He said: “Last year we were battling relegation it was only in the second last game we came off the bottom and we only escaped the play-off place on the last day, beating Forfar who slipped to the bottom.”
Asked what was behind the remarkable transformation, Dods insisted it was simply having more time last summer to prepare for the season ahead.
He said: “I only got the job towards the end of June and by that time other clubs had been able to sign up the players they were looking for.
“We had to try to put a squad together pretty quickly from what was left.”
Losing the opening seven games underlined just how tough it was going to be for Dods, but as the season went on things picked up and the January transfer window allowed further changes to help stave off the threat of relegation.
Dods said: “I’m really proud of how the team’s come on. Last season we managed to turn things around eventually and finish seventh. This season we started really well and were actually top of the league after ten games.
“We kept seven or eight of last season’s team, but I had more time last summer to identify players and speak to them.
“After that good start we fell back a wee bit, but we’ve been in and around the play-offs for most of the season which has been good.”
Dods has made just one six-minute cameo appearance as a substitute this season as opposed to the 23 games he played in the last campaign but the 41-year-old has plenty of experience he can rely on within his squad. Former Raith skipper Dougie Hill is one such figure, the 32-year-old signing from Alloa last summer. Alan Trouten, back at Glebe Park for a second spell, is another as is former Hibs goalkeeper Graeme Smith who has now made more than 150 appearances for Brechin. Long-serving striker Andy Jackson, now nearing 200 games for the club, has been another important figure, claiming 16 goals this season despite being sidelined.
Trouten, though, is likely to miss both games against Raith, having been forced off after only 20 minutes against Stenny with a groin injury.
Nevertheless, Dods remains optimistic, saying: “It would be a great achievement to get a promotion, but if youi get to the play-offs anything can happen. If you’re at it over these four games, you could find yourself in the Championship next season.”
Although fourth, Brechin finished 12 points behind second placed Alloa and Dods accepts there will be some who’d be unhappy should his side eventually prevail.
But while the League One promotion play-off system differs to that of the Championship, he believes his players will enjoy the fact that first up they aren’t facing a side they’ve already played four times this season.
He said: “It’s something different for them rather than playing Alloa or Stranraer again right away.
“And it’s certainly more enjoyable trying to go up the way than avoiding the possibility of going down.”