Elgin City will be relieved at the opportunity to start afresh this summer after bringing a bitterly disappointing season to a close.
City ended the League Two season in ninth place, to record their lowest finish since 2014.
It has slowed down the momentum that had been building in recent years, with Gavin Price’s men having come into the campaign on the back of two successive third-placed finishes.
Despite their lowly finish, Elgin picked up some impressive results against the leading sides in the league – none more so than runaway winners Kelty Hearts.
That has only served to amplify the frustration felt at Borough Briggs, given their lack of consistency throughout the campaign.
Early season disruption at Borough Briggs
Price made some early moves by drafting in goalkeeper Daniel Hoban, defender Creag Little and midfielder Archie Macphee on permanent deals, with Stephen Bronsky and Smart Osadolor among those to move on.
The campaign has been fraught with difficulty since before a ball was kicked however, after a Covid outbreak during pre-season put the Black and Whites into shutdown.
That put Elgin firmly on the backfoot during their Betfred Cup group stage, however they approached the league kick-off with optimism after recording a 3-2 win over League One side East Fife.
It was not the fast start the Moray outfit had hoped for however, as they won just one of their opening seven league matches.
Price was continuing to apply the finishing touches to his squad during this period, with Tom Grivosti, Jaime Wilson, Ross Draper and Nathan Cooney arriving on loan.
There was also a reshuffle to his backroom team, with Keith Gibson stepping down as assistant to be replaced by former Brora Rangers boss Steven Mackay.
A victory away to Stenhousemuir looked to be a potential springboard, however a dismal October would follow.
The low point undoubtedly came when they suffered a Scottish Cup replay loss to West of Scotland League side Clydebank.
Come November Elgin were left with the sole focus of attempting to revive their stuttering league campaign.
Time remained on their side, and they gave themselves some breathing space by recording a 1-0 victory at home to bottom side Cowdenbeath – who trailed them by only three points prior to the game.
City initially struggled to build on the result, however a late fightback to draw 2-2 at home to Stenhousemuir a week prior to Christmas proved to be the catalyst for Elgin’s best run of form of the campaign.
Victories against Stirling Albion and high-flying Forfar Athletic were forthcoming, followed by draws against Edinburgh City and Albion Rovers.
The unbeaten run was stretched to six matches courtesy of their most impressive result of the season, as they inflicted one of only three league defeats upon champions Kelty.
Curse of the manager of the month award
The run of results appeared to move the promotion play-offs into focus, and Price was presented with the League Two Glen’s manager of the month award for January.
Despite a freshening up of the squad, which included the return of midfielder Rabin Omar to the club, and the arrival of promising Aberdeen full back Evan Towler, they would soon come unstuck again.
After losing four games on the trot, Elgin made the trip to bottom-side Cowden on February 19 in desperate need of a victory.
The Blue Brazil ran out 2-0 winners, and although they remained six points behind Elgin they had played three games less.
It was becoming an increasingly precarious situation for Elgin, with Cowdenbeath approaching their games in hand on a vastly-improved run of form.
City’s 3-1 win over Stirling Albion the following week came just at the right time, during a week in which two Cowden defeats allowed Price’s men to restore their nine-point advantage.
By this stage, Price had added further to his coaching staff by bringing his former boss Jim Weir back to Borough Briggs on a deal until the end of the season.
Draws against Kelty and Forfar, and a narrow defeat to Annan, continued Elgin’s trend of running the league’s top sides close.
That sequence was followed by a welcome 2-0 victory over Edinburgh City on March 26. The result was accompanied by a major sense of relief, largely given it ended a 14-match winless streak against the Citizens stretching back to August 2018.
By this point Elgin’s hopes of a late promotion play-off charge were gone however, and their campaign somewhat fizzled out with a draw against Albion Rovers and victory over Stirling Albion, along with losses to Stenhousemuir, Cowdenbeath and Stranraer.
Elgin will be eager to embrace fresh start
It goes down as a highly frustrating campaign on a number of levels, but Price will be confident of turning a new leaf next season.
The disruption faced by the Black and Whites at the start of the campaign was far from ideal, but City suffered from a lack of continuity later in the campaign as well.
Key players such as Kane Hester, Darryl McHardy, Brian Cameron, Euan Spark and Matthew Cooper all spent considerable spells of varying length on the sidelines.
A number of loan players have come and gone throughout the campaign, while Spark and winger Conor O’Keefe are also moving on.
Elgin do still have a strong core of trusted long-serving players though, who will be desperate to make amends by reigniting a promotion challenge in the coming season.
Price will be keen to add fresh strength in depth during the summer however, and he is also keen to prolong the services of Weir within his coaching team.
The Black and Whites are sure to make the most of the opportunity to hit the reset button over the coming weeks, as they prepare for the start of the Premier Sports Cup in early July.