Edinburgh City: All change for Stranraer visit with League Two play-offs on the horizon
Occupying fourth place in cinch League Two and the Edinburgh City ship very much on course to reach the play-offs for a second successive season. But it appears they've now entered choppy waters. The Capital outfit yesterday severed ties with manager Gary Naysmith after just 373 days at the helm.
Chairman Jim Brown and his board have decided to act with little more than six weeks of the 2021/2022 season still to play. It's a decision that, ultimately, could come back to bite the Citizens on the bum should they fail to go on and clinch that coveted play-off berth – and the opportunity of promotion.
With Stenhousemuir neatly tucked just behind City in fifth, there are no guarantees the former Hearts and Everton full-back would have seen the job through. The club's hierarchy clearly had their reservations.
In his defence, Naysmith's dressing room has been decimated by injury. Time and again he had to call upon bodies from the club's development squad just to fill the substitutes' bench and rarely did he have the luxury of naming the same starting XI two weeks in succession.
However, his recruitment last summer left a lot to be desired. Having come within a whisker of sealing promotion to Scottish football's third tier just 10 months ago losing 3-2 on aggregate to Dumbarton in the play-off final, there was optimism that, with a transfer window just around the corner, Naysmith would find the ingredients to launch a title challenge. That failed to materialise. Kelty Hearts have sailed off into the distance with very little resistance from the other nine sides in the division.
Naysmith was surprisingly happy to dispense with the services of Craig Thomson, Andy Black and talisman Blair Henderson, who all departed for pastures new – the latter joining Spartans in the Lowland League. Those he did secure on deals have, by and large, flattered to deceive – James Hilton performing a U-turn to rejoin Stranraer, for example.
That said, City's form since the turn of the year has been encouraging – just two defeats from their previous 12, even taking the injury toll into account. However, the product has been far from engaging for supporters who were becoming increasingly frustrated with what they were being served at Ainslie Park.
But who do City turn to help steer them over the line? There is no quick fix. Within hours of the club announcing Naysmith's departure, they released a second statement confirming assistant Brown Ferguson had stepped down due to personal reasons.
There are no obvious candidates to Naysmith's successor. Former boss – and sporting director – James McDonaugh is content overseeing the development at Hibs while Stevie Crawford, who was Naysmith's assistant prior to Ferguson's appointment, is trying to keep East Fife in League One.
What we do know is that first-team coach Liam Burns will be in the dugout for tonight's crucial visit of Stranraer. The club will look to make an appointment in the next fortnight or so, even just for the remainder of the season. There's little doubt City have taken a big gamble in cutting ties with Naysmith. The timing is what's caught most off guard. But the onus is now on the players to see the job through, irrespective of who is next in the dugout.