Edinburgh City, the league’s newest side are struggling, having failed to win a game during the first round of fixtures. The question on many people’s lips is ‘why’?
Last season they became the first club to be promoted to the Scottish Professional Football League with the implementation of a pyramid structure.
After nine league games, City have managed three draws and suffered six defeats. This is the longest start to a season without a win since Queens Park in 2013. The Spiders, then managed by Gardner Spiers, also managed three draws from their first nine games, clinched their first win at the tenth attempt. Montrose’s run of 19 games without a win in the 2009/10 season remains the record in the bottom division since the expansion of the league setup to 42 teams.
City clearly have a long way to go to take that unenviable record from the Mo, however many are wondering when that first win will come.
Last season the club topped the Lowland League with 73 points. 24 wins, one draw and three defeats suggest a side that was dominant. Indeed, the gap of 15 points to second placed Spartans seems to confirm this.
They would finish the season having scored 74 goals, an average of nearly three goals per game. Their mean defence conceded only 29 goals over the course of the season, a number far fewer than any other team in the league. Nine clean sheets and conceding more than one goal on only seven occasions helped to pull them away from second place Spartans.
This league win secured a place in the promotion playoff, with a spot in League 2 the prize. The first hurdle they faced was a trip to the winners of the Highland League, Cove Rangers. An impressive away performance saw City clinch a 3-0 win, which was followed up with a 1-1 draw at home. Yet again, the side had shown their defensive prowess to limit a Cove side which had scored 98 goals in the league to just one goal over two legs.
In the playoff final they faced the team that had finished bottom of League 2, East Stirlingshire. A 1-0 victory away from home, courtesy of a Dougie Gair penalty was followed up with a 1-1 draw and another Gair penalty to secure promotion and a place in the SPFL for The Citizens.
As the season ended, the manager Gary Jardine was contacted by several agents offering him players from around the world. The manager was clear, though, that he would keep the majority of the promotion winning squad to supplement with a few new signings.
However, two of the club’s key players were considering futures elsewhere.
Joe Mbu, the rock solid defender with league experience at Cowdenbeath, East Fife and Stenhousemuir had made plans to retire. The 34-year-old had vowed to stay with the club and help them win promotion before hanging up his boots, but the lure of one last season in the league was too much for the player to resist, and his retirement was postponed. Midfielder Dougie Gair, the hero of the playoff final, was also due to move to Dubai for work. Once again, the prospect of a season in the league was hard to turn down, and the move to the Middle East was on hold. In total, 18 of the promotion winning squad remained.
As well as securing key players from the previous season, Jardine also made moves to sign players with league experience. The two big signings of the summer were goalkeeper Callum Antell and striker Craig Beattie. Antell had previously played with East Stirlingshire, Queen of the South and Hibs. Craig Beattie is a name instantly recognisable to most Scottish football fans. The 32-year-old had previously played for Celtic, West Brom, Swansea and Hearts and earned seven Scotland caps. Most recently he had played for Stirling Albion, meaning he had experience of playing in League 2.
The decision to retain the majority of the squad raised some eyebrows, as the team looked to make the step up in the higher division. Jardine has no regrets about the decision, as he reveals the faith he has in his players. “I think it was important that we tried to gain some experience but I spoke previously about the journey that we’re on and every time there’s been a target set for those group of players they’ve worked hard, they’ve not achieved it immediately but they’ve gone on to achieve it.”
The league season began at Meadowbank with the visit of Forfar Athletic. In a much anticipated day, the home supporters within the large crowd of 547 were hoping for a historic result. The starting lineup for City featured 9 players that had been with the club in the previous season, plus Antell and Beattie.
City would find themselves 1-0 down following the concession of a cheap penalty just ten minutes in to their league debut. However, they levelled the score ten minutes later when Craig Beattie dribbled well and smashed in an equaliser. The howling winds contributed to challenging conditions, and with ten minutes to play Edinburgh City were 3-1 down and heading for defeat. A late goal added some respectability to the result and reflected the fact that it had been a close encounter. For the first time in 22 league games, City had conceded three goals.
The defence, once so dependable, has struggled. Where last season they conceded an average of one goal per game, this season they have conceded an average of two. In nine games they have conceded one, two and three goals on three occasions each.
One man particularly frustrated with the defensive performance so far is 34-year-old Joe Mbu, a defender with considerable experience and a reputation for his no-nonsense style. “So far this year we’ve not done too well, conceding silly goals and making silly mistakes but I guess that’s the difference when you go up one level.” He reflects, “that’s what I tried to explain to the boys would be in store when we went up to League 2.”
After opening with a run of four consecutive defeats, City picked up their first point of the season away to Stirling Albion. Ross Allum, a key player from the previous season scored late in the game to secure a draw.
That was one of only two away goals scored by Edinburgh City this season. While it may be possible for a team to concede goals on a regular basis and still win, that has to be backed up by goals. City, however, have scored the lowest number of goals of any team in the league this season. Despite this Mbu remains hopeful that their goal scoring form can change. “Don’t get me wrong we’re still creating a lot of chances and we are going to take those chances at some point as well, and teams are going to start wondering about us and looking over their shoulder.”
Perhaps the most frustrating game of the season so far came during the match at home to Arbroath. The Citizens found themselves 3-2 up with 16 minutes to play. The team lost the lead and the match ended in a draw. This was a frustrating experience for the players and management alike. Gair, Mbu and the manager are in full agreement that this result was symptomatic of the problem which had led to poor results.
Midfielder Gair feels his side needs to become “streetwise” and his manager backs that up. “I think that’s something we’ve spoke about as a group… we’re an honest bunch and we try and play our way and the simple fact is we’ve been kind of caught or sucker punched at a lot of set pieces where teams have been smarter than us”.
Mbu cut a frustrated figure at full time. He explains “that’s when you look to kill game. You hit the channels you hit the corners, you sit on the ball, you kill the game as best as you can but we never recognised it, gave away a silly set piece and it cost us.”
In what has been a challenging season for the club, it would be understandable if morale was low. City have gone from a team which wins every week to a team which can’t win. Gair would refute that claim, insisting the squad remain upbeat. “I’ve not seen a massive dent in confidence. We know we’re playing well, we’re creating chances… The guys are still turning up at training and we’re in a good mood”. he said, before explaining that if the winless run continues that mood may change.
The challenge for City now is to find a win. Jardine, the man tasked with finding it is realistic, but remains confident “I think that it was important that from the first quarter we went through the learning process. Of course we would have liked more points on board. If I’m being honest we would have expected more points… the club is only going to go from strength to strength and that group will take them there.”
Edinburgh City become more determined to win with every week that passes. It is clear to those that watch the club that they have the ability to match other teams in their league. If the squad continue to learn from the experience of league football, then the management and players alike are confident that they will get that elusive first win soon.