Pre-season blues coming back to haunt Scorries
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In the summer of 2018, Wick Academy boss Tom McKenna spoke of the importance of having a good pre-season.
The previous year had seen preparations for the season being – at best – disjointed and, with other Highland League clubs enjoying the fruits of a productive pre-season, Academy were left lagging behind.
After a poor start, which included a North of Scotland Cup humiliation at home to Invergordon, the Scorries ended up having to settle for a lower mid-table finish of 12th.
In order for that not to be repeated, a thorough pre-season programme was organised and implemented with the end result being the team were match-fit and fully prepared.
A decent start was built on and a very respectable seventh place finish was achieved – not a bad feat given the greater resources enjoyed by the teams above them.
Fans were hoping to see their club build upon this – or at least maintain the same level – but the difficulties in arranging pre-season matches were evident when the following Twitter post appeared from boss Tom McKenna appealing for teams to come north andplay Wick.
Games against an Inverness Caledonian Thistle development squad and junior side Nairn St Ninian were hurriedly arranged but Academy's Highland League rivals were much further down the line in building up match fitness.
So far, the Scorries have racked up only five league wins. While there has been no cup shocks at the hands of North Caledonian League sides, the 6-0 tanking at Brora in the North Cup was not pleasant viewing.
Indeed, following the tame Highland League Cup exit to struggling Huntly, echoes of season 2017/18 are emerging.
Last Saturday's 2-0 home defeat to Fraserburgh means the Scorries have had just one victory in their last eight outings in league and cup. They have failed to score in four of their last six matches.
A trip to Deveronvale awaits them this weekend and a defeat at Princess Royal Park would see Academy slip further down the table – as far as 12th should Huntly win at Nairn County.
McKenna said: "It's far from ideal and it's a position we want to get away from as quickly as possible.
"Looking at the middle of the table, it's becoming a very competitive environment there and we'd rather be competing much higher up the league.
It has had an effect but there are other factors to consider
"But this is where we are at now. We're in a rut and we have to get ourselves out of it.
"Looking back on the pre-season we had this year and comparing it to last season, having a good one can have an effect.
"Last year we had a good one and that gave us a solid foundation to build upon, which we did.
"This year we were trying to arrange games while other teams had already had their own pre-seasons set up. So it has had an effect, but there are other factors to consider when comparing to last year.
"Last season we had a good pre-season but also we had good squad numbers turning up for training and being available for match-day.
"Our numbers haven't been healthy this season and the subs' bench has not been balanced.
"We've had our fair share of injuries – whether not having the best of pre-seasons has made the boys more susceptible to those might be a factor in that, I don't know.
"Marc Macgregor is still some way from returning, Grant Steven will be having to go for a knee operation soon, and for this week's game we've had Davie Allan, Ross Allan and Craig Gunn all resting up from their injuries in the hope they can be ready for the Deveronvale game.
"I'm hoping to have those three available but it could well be the case that we might be down to the bare bones in terms of squad personnel."