Sore is how Cove Rangers’ chairman Keith Moorhouse would describe the way his side’s season ended.
But the manner of the play-off defeat, an extra-time loss against Airdrieonians in which they were very close to winning, does not mask another season of progress at the Balmoral Stadium.
“It’s probably a reflective word,” said Moorhouse. “Disappointed the way it ended would be my view on it, but not disappointed with the season overall.
“We made the play-offs, which was beyond our target. But the way the play-offs ended was heartbreaking for everybody.
“We need to use these experiences to make ourselves stronger and prior history tells you that’s what we’ve always done.”
Cove finished the season in third, having been in close contention for the title heading into the split.
They had tussled with full-time teams for the majority of the campaign, finishing higher than Falkirk and recording wins over Airdrieonians and eventual champions Partick Thistle.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact we’ve progressed,” added Moorhouse. “From our point of view we’re probably ahead of where we expected to be and that’s a reflection of everybody at the club, particularly the players and the staff.
“They have raised the standards and allowed us to compete at the top end of this league. League One is not an easy league.
“Next season is going to be even more competitive, I feel, with the addition of Alloa and Queen’s Park. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready for that challenge.”
The addition of ambitious Queen’s Park – with Laurie Ellis now in charge after Ray McKinnon’s departure – and Alloa Athletic to the division will ensure the division remains arguably the most competitive in Scotland.
Cove beat Alloa in the Scottish Cup at the turn of the year and the Wasps are also on the hunt for a new boss, with Barry Ferguson linked with the job after leaving newly-promoted Kelty Hearts.
“It’s always an exciting challenge,” said Moorhouse. “We want to test ourselves against the best – we always have done and that’s the attitude the boys have got.
“There’s a strong winning mindset throughout the club; we’ve built that up through the Highland League, which has kept us in a good place.
“The challenge ahead is just another challenge. The kind of characters we’ve got will help us do that.”
We are delighted to confirm four players have agreed new two year contracts with the club.
Stuart McKenzie, Connor Scully, Blair Yule & Fraser Fyvie have penned deals that will keep them at Balmoral Stadium until at least the end of season 2022/23 👇 https://t.co/jnlRvpT2qW
— Cove Rangers FC (@CoveRangersFC) May 24, 2021
The work on improving the squad has already begun, with four players signing new contracts earlier this week.
Blair Yule, Connor Scully and Stuart McKenzie have been stalwarts of their team progressing out of the Highland League, while Fraser Fyvie has been a fine addition since joining in the summer of 2019.
Consistency is a big factor in their squad-building and they have repaid players who have become synonymous with Cove over a number of years.
They will also be boosted by Harry Milne and Jamie Masson – both sidelined by ankle injuries – returning, hopefully for the start of pre-season.
“They’ve been important boys for the club for a while now, given how long they’ve been with the club,” added Moorhouse. “They’ve all played huge parts in the club’s success and it’s great to keep these guys.
“We always believed, I think even back in the Highland League, they had more than enough about them to play in the Scottish leagues and I think that’s proved itself. They’ve taken themselves up another level.
“The approach to the whole football side with Paul and his team coming in, that has helped without a doubt.”
“We wanted to maintain the core we have, because it’s important to have a consistency and a foundation in the team, which is there for moving forward.
“It’s about being organised, being prepared. Having a plan.”