The dust has begun to settle on what can only be described as a remarkable season for Alloa Athletic. The Championship table had twists and turns and it wasn’t till the final kick on the final day that our fate was sealed with a point at Somerset enough to maintain our second-tier status. There are too many superlatives to describe the work done by Jim Goodwin and his never-say-die squad but what they achieved on Saturday is nothing short of incredible. They have defied the betting odds, the pundits predictions, their part-time status, the thirty-odd players coming in and out the door at Falkirk and a forty-goal a season striker in Stephen Dobbie. This article couldn’t possibly touch upon every player, managerial decision, goal and match in this historic season, but it will attempt to dissect some of the key moments for the the Wee County side.
Many punters and pundits had already placed Alloa firm favourites for the drop and from the outside, it seemed the easy choice. Goodwin went into pre-season with a questionable transfer window so far and defeat to the likes of Clyde in the friendlies put the warning signs on for the Wasp faithful. In hindsight, we shouldn’t of worried! As proven before, Goody had a plan, like he always does. There was no panic buys or pressure from the manager of the year nominee as he bided his time and waited for the right players to come available. A flurry of loan signings such as Jake Hastie and Sam Roscoe gave this Alloa side a real sense of excitement and with those signings the season began. The Betfred Cup gave Alloa hope going into the Championship campaign with a spirited performance at Tannadice and a certain Jake Hastie bursting onto the scene. However, the league campaign’s start brought a real sense of reality and alluded to what Alloa already knew was going to be a monumental task. The first eight games saw Alloa fail to pick up any sort of victory despite strong performances. The transfer plan wasn’t finished when the league campaign started though and the introduction of Dario Zanatta in particular gave Alloa a new lease of life and an attacker to pin the hopes of many on.
‘It will come, it will come’ was what was reiterated from the Alloa camp and come it did. Alloa’s first victory of the season came against Partick Thistle. Zanatta, who had been terrifying defences for as long, finally got his reward with the winning goal and Alloa’s season really kick started. This ‘plucky’ Alloa side would prove a stern match for any of the full-time opposition it faced and although they dropped out the cup disappointingly to lower league side, Edinburgh City, it never damaged the belief of the squad. It had been efforts with little rewards so far but as the festive season approached, it all began to click. Commendable draws away from home against Falkirk, Dunfermline and Thistle put with victories against Queens, Dundee United and Morton made Alloa the form team at the turn of the year. The plaudits began coming Alloa’s way with a double-swoop for manager and player of the month for Zanatta and Goodwin. It was all very rosy at the Indodrill. We had Hastie and Zanatta in frightening form, a classy and formidable midfield in Flannigan and Hetherington, stalwarts at the back in Andy Graham and of course, Goody at the wheel!
The stage was set at St Mirren park with all the media gathered to see Jim Goodwin return to his old stomping ground and add more misery to Oran Kearney’s side. Two goals and a man up at halftime for Alloa meant we were in dreamland – nobody would’ve expected the next 45 minutes to almost derail our season like it did. Saints came out in the second half, turned it around and won 3-2. This swing in fortunes, alongwith losing the likes of Jake Hastie, really put a damper on things to come for Alloa. That afternoon would see the team go on a run that saw us only pick up one win in nine matches. Falkirk and Thistle fans with their new set of players crawled back out from under their rocks to mock Alloa and finally wave them goodbye back to the seaside leagues.
Remarkable, incredible and simply glorious summed up the rest of the season for Alloa though. Goodwin believed, the players believed and I have no doubt the faithful few who had traveled from Palmerston to Inverness believed in this set of players. A shock win over the champions breathed life into Alloa and a further three wins followed against our closest rivals, Falkirk, Morton and Queen of the South. To put together a run like that in this division is always going to propel you up the table but the fact that it was against teams around about Alloa meant so much more. The manner in which the players battled for every single minute of these games with bodies on the line and last minute winners summed the team up. Andy Graham breaking his nose, blood flowing but getting back up again and battling through to keep another clean sheet epitomised every one of them. With three games to go for the Wasps, we all knew one win would be enough and of course, we would leave it till the last day. The same gritty mentality battled against high-flyers, Ayr, to take a well earned point which proved to be enough for safety from both automatic and play-off relegation spots.
It wasn’t easy, nobody said it was going to be. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. Sometimes it was frustrating. It was most certainly nail biting. But when Willie Collum’s whistle went for full time at Somerset, I’ll tell you for free, it was worth it. This article doesn’t do this team the justice and the credit it deserves. There are too many heroes to mention, every single one of our small squad played their part. From the formidable force in between the sticks in Neil Parry to top scorer Alan Trouten, they all proved the doubters wrong and showed why they’re worthy of being in the Championship. It’s time to breath a sigh of relief, embrace the good times – we have a fantastic core of players along with an equally exciting manager – and prepare to do it all again come August. Let’s hope we can keep our conductor, Jim Goodwin, who will continue to galvanise his part-time heroes with the addition of a few bright youngsters eager to impress on the big stage.