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Mid-term report: So far, so good for Cove Rangers in League One promotion pursuit

Mitch Megginson celebrates putting Cove Rangers 2-0 up against Peterhead
Cove Rangers goalscorer Mitch Megginson

You probably won’t find anyone at Cove Rangers getting too excited at how the first half of the season has gone.

It has undoubtedly been impressive, but the job is not yet done. They find themselves in a strong position heading into the new year, but are aware the hardest tasks are ahead.

Let’s rewind to last season. Cove were among a clutch of teams vying for automatic promotion when the split came around. They ultimately had to settle for a play-off berth, with Partick Thistle emerging from the pack to claim the title.

Cove were drawn against Airdrieonians and, after a 1-1 draw at the Balmoral Stadium, headed into the return leg confident they could finish the job.

They came just about as close to doing so as you could get. They took the lead in stoppage-time and appeared to be heading for the final, only for the Diamonds to equalise and score the winner in stoppage-time.

Cove Rangers manager Paul Hartley

I wrote at the time that despite the painful way the season ended, it should not mask the strides the club had made in what was their first season in League One.

But the lesson from the play-off heartbreak could ultimately be not to let it get to that stage. Win the league outright and spare yourself the uncertainty and drama that comes with knock-out football.

They are on the right track to doing so. After a slow start to the campaign they have clicked into gear, becoming one of the most consistent units in the division and benefitting from greater experience in the squad.

While Cove finished last year with several young loanees in the squad, their places have been taken by former Ross County skipper Iain Vigurs and ex-Aberdeen right-back Shay Logan, with another ex-Staggie Ross Draper due to return from a loan at Elgin City in January.

Morgyn Neill has provided a different skillset at the back. Cove’s centre-backs are all comfortable on the ball – they need to be to play the way Hartley wants to – but there was maybe a lack of a physical presence in their backline last season.

Morgyn Neill in action against Albion Rovers
Cove Rangers defender Morgyn Neill in action against Albion Rovers

Jevan Anderson is someone I thought they might target after he was let go by Burton Albion. They needed more centre-back choice and, given his obvious connection to the area, not to mention he has plenty of room to grow at 21, it seemed a smart signing.

The first part of his season was disrupted by injury, but those issues seem to have abated and the fact he is left-footed gives them a nice balance at the back.

Cove have traditionally pitched up in a 4-2-3-1 system, which suited the players they have available. However, with the signings this summer – Fin Robertson also came in on-loan from Dundee – they had a glut of central midfielders who all needed game-time.

A switch to three at the back has worked. It allows Vigurs, Connor Scully or Fraser Fyvie to play in the middle of the park, while utilising Blair Yule’s energy at right wing-back should Logan be unavailable.

Jamie Masson, fresh from a long-term injury lay-off, gets the freedom to roam and create behind two of the most lethal strikers in the SPFL in Mitch Megginson and Rory McAllister.

Cove may not stick with it for the entire season, but they have a more than useful alternative to switch to should the situation call for it.

They have performed well against the other promotion challengers. They are unbeaten against Montrose and Falkirk and have beaten Airdrieonians home and away.

Their only slip-up came against Queen’s Park in the second game of the season and the two also played out a pulsating 3-3 draw in October.

The foundations have been laid for Cove to push on and claim another league title. It would be their sixth in 10 years and potentially the most transformative, given it brings promotion to the Championship and the likelihood of full-time football.

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