Brechin City endured a baptism of fire in their first second-tier game since 2006 as they lost 4-1 to Queen of the South in their Ladbrokes Championship opener.
Many are expecting Darren Dods’ newly-promoted side to endure a difficult campaign this term, and Saturday’s result didn’t boost confidence in City’s hopes.
However, in their bid to beat the drop, the Angus club need look no further than the only other part-time Champ side Dumbarton, for a blueprint on how to not only survive but thrive.
The Sons are now in their sixth successive campaign at this level, and despite having the lowest crowds and a very modest budget, they’ve avoided the relegation play-offs every year, even chalking up a top-five finish in 2013-14.
One of their key successes has been finding a tactical set-up which suits a part-time side, to help counteract the issue of fitness and stamina against clubs with the resources of Dundee United or Falkirk.
Sons boss Steven Aitken has gone with a 4-4-1-1 system which has allowed his side to soak up the pressure, hitting sides on the break – and has tailored his transfer policy to ensure that tactical approach pays dividends.
This summer is the archetypal example of that. Aitken has added experienced, no-nonsense defenders like Dougie Hill and Craig Barr to marshal the backline.
Meanwhile, pacy, tricky and raw young attacking talents like Alistair Roy and bigger-club cast-offs like 23-year-old Danny Handling arrive with plenty of creativity and just as much desire to prove themselves.
Brechin will also need to make Glebe Park a tricky place to go, just as the Sons have done on their home patch.
Aitken’s side took 27 of their 37 points on home turf during a tricky 2015-16, with Dumbarton becoming renowned as an unforgiving place for opposition players.
When Ladbrokes News spoke to City boss Dods ahead of the season, he told us:
“Glebe Park is one of the smallest stadiums in the league, and it’s a tight pitch. 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.”
That’s something they absolutely have to make use of. With the likes of Livingston and Greenock Morton – two of the plausible relegation candidates – visiting in the cold of January, Brechin need to learn how to use the elements to their advantage and grind out results.
As for this transfer window, more experienced, wily campaigners in defence could certainly be an advantage – though the addition of Livingston’s Sean Crighton is a step in the right direction.
Oh, and even if things don’t go to plan in the first half of the season, Brechin need to stick with Dods. When Dumbarton wobbled, they stuck with Aitken, and he set about reviving a squad he had built, developed and drilled well.
Dods is the man to do the same at Glebe Park.
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