The end of the season is a time for reflection and to look ahead to the next campaign and how we will prepare for it. Players' contracts - renewing some of the current squad's deals and identifying potential new signings - will be discussed and debated by fans but the first decision for the DAFC board to make is whether to extend manager Allan Johnston's time in charge. As a club, we operate with the manager very much in charge of player recruitment - no Director of Football or any such role to work alongside the "head coach" or, as in some club's cases, to completely handle signings.
With that in mind, the club's directors have to decide who their manager will be next season, with the main reason being the formation of our squad for 2018/19. Some of the current squad may prefer to stay if AJ was to remain; others may have the opposite view. Then there is the clear need to add to what we already have (or had): scouting new players, negotiating contracts, deciding who to target, and so on. That is not to suggest that we simply retain the manager so we have someone in charge to immediately focus on the squad; the board have to decide if AJ is the best available manager to move us forward, or if he has (to use a well-worn football saying) - "taken us as far as he can".
During the past season, I was critical of the manager when the team were going through the extended slump from mid-October to mid-December (1 win in 9 games). The season had begun with the team rattling in goals and sitting top of the Championship. During the second quarter, however, we lost early season talisman Joe Cardle to injury, and saw our other main creative spark, Kallum Higginbotham, lose form. There was no Plan B: AJ stuck rigidly to his favoured 4-4-2 formation, with a midfield pairing of Nat Wedderburn and Dean Shiels that were being by-passed game after game by more agile and pacier opposition players. January's transfer window saw the manager address that issue by signing 3 central midfielders (James Craigen, Tom Beadling and James Vincent, the latter two on loan) and although the team became harder to score against, they went on a 6 game run without a win from 13 January to 10 March, the final game of which, a 2-0 defeat at St Mirren, saw the Pars support turn on the manager for the first time in any great numbers. AJ had tried different formations, including playing top scorer Nicky Clark in a role behind a front 2.
The team had slipped out of the top 4, in danger of not achieving a play-off place. It was mid March and a midweek game at home to Inverness saw a first victory in 7 games recorded. This was the start of what was to become an 11 match unbeaten run that included wins over Livingston (ending their 11 game run without a loss) and Falkirk (who had been on a 7 game unbeaten run; it was also the first win at their stadium since 2012). The midfielders were now settled in and new keeper Lee Robinson was to achieve 12 clean sheets after joining in January when Sean Murdoch was injured. Winger Fraser Aird was also, finally, being given game time - a player who was completely under-used for much of the season until March. The manager had rescued the season and his own job, with the contrast between the season's low-point - the 5-2 home defeat by Queen of the South in December - and the excitement of the 95th minute equaliser at Inverness last month illustrating how much had changed, for the better.
Aside from his decision to play Jean Yves M'Voto up front for the latter stages of the second leg play-off quarter final at Dundee United - a worrying sign that, despite much progress, the manager was still capable of making a decision that was to the detriment of the team - I believe that we should extend AJ's time at the club by a further 2 years. A year's extension has been suggested by some fans but I would prefer continuity over a longer spell, which in turn may encourage players to commit to the club instead of wondering who their manager might be in 12 months' time. There could be conditions built into a 2 year deal (top 4 place next year being a minimum requirement, for example, to extend the deal to 2020).
Even during the worst run of results we had this season, I never advocated sacking the manager. His summer signings last year were, largely, disappointing - especially in midfield - but having achieved his objective by the season's end, and having shown a willingness to change and to correct his own errors, he deserves another contract. He has learned a lot and I hope to see him back in the dugout next season, continuing his season-by-season improvement since taking charge in 2015.