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As the players and management staff look forward to a well-earned break, we look back at an eventful campaign that started so disappointingly against Dean Donaldson’s Turriff United and ended with Deano in the Locos dugout as we triumphed in the Evening Express Aberdeenshire Cup final.

Myles Gaffney finished the season as top scorer with 15 goals. Photo credit: Kevin Taylor Photography

One of the attractions of football is that every season begins full of optimism at every club. For Locos fans, that bubble was burst inside the first 45 minutes at The Haughs. With a tough opening set of fixtures, another heavy defeat at home to Fraserburgh set the tone for the worst imaginable start to the campaign. Although performances gradually improved, results didn’t and, despite a couple of good wins in the Highland League Cup, The Railwaymen found themselves with just one point from the opening five league fixtures.

There was a lot of criticism aimed at the players and management, some justified but much of it unfair, but there was no getting away from the fact that results were falling well below expectations. Following another big reverse, this time at Station Park in mid-September, the club parted ways with Andy Low, bringing his second spell in charge of the club to a premature end. After defeat to Clachnacuddin in the Scottish Cup, a first league win of the season finally arrived against Strathspey Thistle on 7th October under the caretaker stewardship of Jamie Watt.

Final Breedon Highland League table

By the time we were in Highland League action again the following week, Donaldson had been installed as Low’s permanent replacement and the pre-season optimism among fans had returned. Ultimately, that optimism proved to be well founded but it took another month for Dean to get off the mark with a narrow win at Kynoch Park. From that point on results continued to improve as the players got to grips with the demands of the manager and were clearly enjoying their football. Another 10 victories followed to finish the season in 10th place with 44 points.

There’s no doubt that league position was below everybody’s hope and expectations but Donaldson believes the recovery after that disastrous start was every bit as impressive as the Aberdeenshire Cup win. The second half of the season saw some impressive performances, including big wins over Nairn County and Rothes as well as avoiding defeat against Buckie Thistle for the first time in four years. Of course, that late Jags equaliser at Victoria Park in March proved quite significant to them too.

Away from the Highland League, excellent wins at Huntly and Rothes in the League Cup belied the early season form but the run was ended by Brechin City. There was palpable disappointment at falling at the first hurdle in the Scottish Cup and having beaten Dyce in the opening round of the Aberdeenshire Shield, Locos met Buckie Thistle in one of Deano’s first games in the dugout but were no match for the eventual league champions that night.

Dean Donaldson and his coaching team arrived in October. Photo credit: Kevin Taylor Photography

The Railwaymen also came through a tough tie against Dyce in the opening round of the Aberdeenshire Cup. With Locos trailing the junior side at half time, you’d have got long odds on them winning the competition at that stage. The path to the final didn’t get any easier but a strong Formartine United team were despatched at Harlaw Park, with Mark Souter’s stunning goal of the season setting them on the way. Aberdeen were the visitors in the semi-final where another good performance set up the meeting with Buckie at Kynoch Park. Newly crowned Highland League Champions Thistle were favourites to make it a double but Locos worked hard to keep a clean sheet and prevailed in the shootout.

Mark Souter fires home the decisive penalty to win the Evening Express Aberdeenshire Cup.
Photo credit: Kevin Taylor Photography

In league terms, this wasn’t a vintage season. 10th is as low as Locos have ever finished and their points total – and goal tally – are their lowest in a 34 game season. This is also the only season since joining the Highland League that Locos have finished with a negative goal difference. However, the progress made under Deano, and the form since November, give reasons for optimism ahead of next season.

Then of course there was the Aberdeenshire Cup. Everyone at Harlaw Park has been craving a trophy since lifting the Aberdeenshire Shield in 2016 and by that measure alone, this has to go down as a successful campaign. One thing’s for sure, when next season comes around there will be the usual buzz of excitement and the hope that, with a better start, this young squad can deliver a season to remember.