Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Kevin McKinlay, in ye come.

Kevin McKinlay: leading Stenhousemuir to the Second
Division title in 2011-2012. Probably.

Last night, Stenhousemuir FC announced the signing of Kevin McKinlay on their official website. The 25 year old impressed as a trialist against Berwick Rangers and Clyde and is manager Davie Irons' seventh (and possibly final) signing of the summer. Adept in both defensive and offensive postions on the left flank, McKinlay can also be utilised as a central defender or a striker if needbe. Easily the most outstanding of the trialists that featured throughout the pre-season, his experience and versatility will prove invaluable in the club's forthcoming league campaign.

McKinlay achieved an element of fame some years ago after appearing in BBC Scotland's Raploch Stories. The 2002 documentary detailed the youngster's move from boy's club side Carse Thistle to English Premier League heavyweights Chelsea. Like every other Chelsea youth player since John Terry, however, he failed to make an impact and was loaned out to Ross County without making a first team appearance. The move was eventually made permanent and was followed by spells with Partick Thistle and League of Ireland side Dundalk. McKinlay played at Greenock Morton last season before his release from the Renfrewshire club in the summer.

Assuming that Irons intends to persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation he showcased against Clyde on Saturday, it will be interesting to see just where the player will fit into the system. Given Martyn Corrigan's absence throughout the pre-season friendlies, he could be drafted in alongside Ross McMillan in central defence for the upcoming match against Partick Thistle. When the vetran defender eventually returns to the first team, I imagine that McKinlay could either displace Sean Dickson at left fullback or offer an option on the left wing with Stevie Murray moving to the opposite flank. Alternatively, the manager could revert to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation with McKinaly on the left of midfield and Murray on the right. Given the paucity of options before he joined, McKinlay's addition to the squad certainly makes for an interesting conundrum.

After several weeks of poor results and colourless performances, Kevin McKinlay's signing has infused me with a sense of cautious optimism. Although the squad still seems stretched, few people could argue with a starting XI that features players of the calibre of McMillan, McKinlay, Murray and Kean, especially at Second Division level. I don't think that we'll finish in the playoff places, but we should be aiming to better last year's eighth position. The squad still requires a right winger to replace Grant Anderson and a dominating, physical centre forward (these signings would seem very unlikely given that Irons has exhausted his budget for the year, unless they joined the club on loan) and I still have concerns about our contingency plans for when injuries and suspensions hit, but the quality is there to finish above Stirling Albion and Albion Rovers at the very least.

As a final point, however, it must be noted that the last Chelsea youth player Stenhousemuir had in their ranks was a certain Stevie Hampshire. Looking like a cross between Jar-Jar Binks and a middle-aged man browsing for chinos in his local Next, Hampshire arrived with similar fanfare following his move from Brechin City in 2007. Sent off on his debut, the player cut a dismal figure during his time at Ochilview. Hampshire played with the grace of a man running through a vat of knee-deep slurry and always looked utterly bewildered any time the ball found its way to his feet. John Coughlin saw right through this joker and he was eventually moved on to Berwick Rangers the following year.

As long as you're better than Stevie Hampshire, you'll do alright, Keggsy.

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