After 11 years outside the top two tiers of Scottish football, Darren Dods led Brechin City back to the Ladbrokes Championship last season in the most dramatic fashion, with a play-off final penalty shoot-out win over Alloa Athletic.
But while he’s happy to reminisce about the drama and joy of promotion, the experienced boss now has his eyes on a season of survival, with City having already added three top talents to their squad this summer.
Ladbrokes News sat down with the talented gaffer to discuss all things Glebe Park.
Ladbrokes News: You guys secured promotion to the Championship in the most dramatic way possible, winning a penalty shoot-out in the play-off Final against Alloa. Talk us through those two ties…and of course, how you celebrated afterwards!
Darren Dods: We had home advantage for the first leg, and won that 1-0, so we were in a good position heading to Alloa. James Dale scored for us just after the half-hour mark, and everything looked great, but within about five minutes of that we’d given away two goals and it was all-square in the tie.
It was like that throughout the game. We kept scoring, but failed to keep it tight, and Alloa kept coming back at us and the goals came in quick succession. I thought we’d won it when Liam [Watt] scored with 12 minutes left, but we let them back into it yet again.
Extra-Time was nervy because we were getting tired, but it went to penalties, and again that see-sawed and went down to sudden death. Obviously, it was an extremely nervy game, but it was amazing to win promotion in that way!
We went out in Edinburgh that night, because quite a lot of the boys are based there, and celebrated in style!
LN: Brechin were dark horses for promotion ahead of last season. What would you say were the key characteristics which helped you guys upset the odds and go on to secure Championship football?
DD: We only secured that play-off spot on the final day of the season, when we got a point against Stenhousemuir. Alloa and Airdrieonians had already secured those spots, and Raith Rovers had been in the division above – so we went into it as underdogs.
Nobody outside of Glebe Park really expected us to beat Raith in the Semi-Final, but we did, and that gave us huge confidence heading into the tie against Alloa.
However, I think the determination was the biggest factor for us. Our players were cramping up and exhausted during that second leg, but just found that extra energy from somewhere. And then after making it through that unscathed, we had the pressure of another penalty shoot-out.
We showed great character to win a second consecutive shoot-out in these play-offs. But that’s something I knew the players could do. We looked to have knocked Raith out in normal time in the second leg, but they got a 90th-minute equaliser, and then went ahead in Extra-Time. But that team spirit took us over the line.
LN: You had a difficult run not long before the play-offs, where the club lost four games from five, but you then picked up a crucial win against Stranraer and a pair of draws, to secure that top-four spot. How did you manage to pick the players back up and turn that difficult sequence of results around?
DD: It was difficult because we’d been on a good run of results up until we lost at home to Alloa in late March.
We then lost to Livingston and Airdrie in quick succession at the beginning of April, and those results were followed by a very heavy defeat by Alloa [6-1], where our keeper got sent off and Dougie Hill at centre-back got booked and suspended.
So we went into the next two games – against Stranraer and Albion Rovers – missing our first-choice goalie and a major cog in our defence. That was a situation where I really had to use the whole squad.
But the guys who came in for those games put in a couple of fantastic performances, and we took four points from the two fixtures. Again, ahead of the play-offs, we were missing key guys because of injury, and the fringe players came in, stepped up and helped carry us up to the Championship!
LN: You’ve brought in three new names already this summer – Isaac Layne (from Grays Athletic), Euan Spark (Dunfermline Athletic) and Ryan McGeever (Queen’s Park). What can fans expect to see from each of those guys?
DD: Isaac was on loan here in 2015-16, and I was keen to keep hold of him ahead of last season, but in the end Alloa got him. But I’m excited to have him back – and he’ll offer us a real goal threat up front alongside Andy Jackson.
Ryan McGeever is only 23, but he came through the ranks at Falkirk, and so he’s experienced this division and full-time football. I personally think he’s got all the qualities to make the step back up to full-time [following two years with Queen’s Park]. He’s 6ft 4in as well, so he adds a bit of power to our squad.
Euan was very highly rated at Dundee United, but he maybe didn’t quite develop as quickly as he’d have hoped in recent years, but he’s still got great potential and is a player I think the Brechin fans will really enjoy watching.
LN: Are there other areas of the pitch where you’re looking to strengthen this summer, or more targets you’re looking to bring in during the window?
DD: Absolutely. I’d like to bring in another central midfielder, and also someone on the wide right, with Alan Trouten leaving for Albion Rovers in the summer. So we’re a bit short on that flank at present.
We’ve obviously got the Scottish Cup campaign beginning 10 days from now, so I’d like to see a few more additions before that starts. But we’ll be looking at bringing in more guys throughout the summer.
LN: Obviously the step up from League 1 to Championship is a tough one, especially with so many full-time teams in the second tier. Is the aim for Brechin next season just to avoid the drop, or do you think the side can do more than that?
DD: We’re just focused on avoiding relegation – certainly for the time being. This season’s going to be tough, because it’s only us and Dumbarton who are part-time in the division.
Dumbarton have done really well over the past three or four years, and managed to cement their place in the Championship. So they’ve shown it can be done, and with the momentum and confidence we have right now, I’m confident we can start the season well and hopefully, that’ll be a springboard to success.
I’d say home advantage could be a key thing for us. Glebe Park is one of the smallest stadiums in the league, and it’s a tight pitch, and while we’re used to it being a bit muddy there in winter, there could be a few teams who aren’t as keen on battling it out in those conditions.
We’re going to have to make sure we make the most out of any positive or advantage this season because staying up at this level is a big ask.
LN: You had a bumper crowd of 1,022 for the visit of Raith Rovers in the Semi-Final first leg, and over 700 for the Alloa game. What do you think the club can do to make sure those fans keep returning to Glebe Park this season?
DD: The excitement of being the Championship helps, especially with Brechin not having played in the second tier since 2006. So, for some fans, it’ll be the first time they’ve seen us play the likes of Falkirk or Dundee United in a league game.
Obviously winning games and entertaining the fans will be another key aspect. A lot of neutrals I’ve spoken to said how much they were entertained by the play-off games we were involved in, and I think if we can keep playing that kind of exciting, attacking football, more people are sure to come through the gates.
I think it’s also a great thing that we have quite a few players who’ve been with the club for a number of years, like Paul McLean. Having those players you see week-in, week-out for a number of years helps build a real bond between the fans and the side out on the pitch.
If you fancy Brechin City to somehow top the 2016-17 campaign, there are odds of 150/1 on offer for Darren Dods’ men to lift the Championship title in the coming campaign.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing