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Mention the name Joe Nuttall to any Stranraer fan, and it's unlikely you'll be greeted with much enthusiasm.

Nuttall was the last in the line of strikers brought in by Brian Reid, with the hope of rejuvenating the Blues' troubled form and firing his side up the table.

Unfortunately for both Reid and Nuttall, it never quite happened, despite a promising start.

Instead, he looked set to be remembered by Blues supporters along with the likes of Luciano Nequecaur and Christian Nadé as a failed experiment.

Until, that is, he returned to Lancashire.

Blackburn trial

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Following his release this summer by Aberdeen, many would have expected Nuttall to be more likely to end up at Albion Rovers than Blackburn Rovers.

A sleeping giant of English football, Blackburn famously won the Premiership in 1994/95 - one of only six clubs to do so - but have been plying their trade at a lower level since 2012.

With a proud history and notable former players such as Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton and Colin Hendry, the club still attracts crowds in the tens of thousands despite being in the third tier, and have ambitions to make their way back up the leagues.

Part of their plan for the future will no doubt be to recruit exciting youngsters, which is where Nuttall comes in.

The frontman impressed the Ewood Park coaching staff by scoring a hat trick on trial for their under 23 squad, and followed this with a brace in his second appearance as a trialist.

Rovers wasted no time in securing Nuttall's signature, and he went on to score 8 goals in 6 Premier League 2 (PL2) appearances for the development squad.

First team debut

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Nuttall was handed his first team debut as a second half substitute in Rovers' EFL Cup win over Stoke City U21s on 29 August, scoring the only goal of the game.

And with some Rovers fans clamouring for Joe to get a run in the team, manager Tony Mowbray was asked to address the issue at a pre-match press conference on 19 October.

He said: "Opportunities come at unexpected times, through suspensions and injuries and so on.

"Joe’s time is going to come".

Sure enough, Mowbray was true to his word - sooner rather than later.

Super sub

With several first team players out, Nuttall made his league debut with another appearance from the bench on 31 October against Fleetwood Town.

With 67 minutes on the clock, the frontman repeated his cup feat by firing home from the edge of the six yard box to score on his league debut.

Although Fleetwood pegged the scoreline back to 2-2, Nuttall was the man of the hour for Rovers. After the match, Mowbray spoke highly of the striker.

He said: "Joe knows where the net is.

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"He was in the right position to score, he's got a knack for that and it's a fantastic one to have.

"He's not far away; he's got to keep working hard, listen, watch and learn. When he gets opportunities, he has to grab them, as he did tonight. You can't ask for more from a striker than scoring.

"He's got wonderful attributes; he's mobile, he's big and strong, he can score with both feet and his head."

Nuttall's career looks to be taking off south of the border, and he seems to be realising the potential he showed as a youngster.

But all of this begs the question, what went wrong for Joe at Stair Park?

A bright start

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Like marquee signings Nequecaur and Nadé before him, the Manchester City academy prospect looked a great acquisition on paper.

He arrived at the club in November 2016 on a 28 day emergency loan deal from Aberdeen, with the Blues sitting 7th in the League 1 table, having won just one of their last five games.

Nadé's time at the club had come to an anticlimactic end, and Dons youngster Nuttall was seen as the man to take his place.

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And although he was on the losing side on his introduction at Cliftonhill, it was nonetheless an impressive Stranraer debut for the frontman, who scored our second goal in a 3-2 defeat to Albion Rovers.

Fast forward one week, and Joe was picking up a Man of the Match award for his display in a 3-1 home win against Stenhousemuir, the highlight of which was his solo run and finish for the Blues' third goal.

Going it alone

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For his first two games, Nuttall was partnered up front by Craig Malcolm in a 4-4-2 formation.

But for the visit of Livingston the following week, he operated as the lone frontman in a conservative 4-5-1 setup.

Stranraer were impressive against the league leaders, but only in defeat. Scott Agnew's early free kick was overturned by second half goals from Carrick and De Vita, and for the first time, Nuttall failed to make the scoresheet.

The Blues went on a four-game winless run, and Nuttall was subbed after 82 minutes in a draw at Alloa, and after less than an hour in a demoralising 2-0 loss away to Brechin.

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With tensions growing and supporters increasingly unhappy, Reid switched back to a 4-4-2 formation for the trip to Hampden on Hogmanay, as Willie Gibson's solitary strike secured a vital 3 points to move his struggling Stranraer side off the foot of the table.

Nuttall found himself on the bench for the visit of Alloa on 7 January 2017, with Craig Malcolm recalled.

Much like the Livingston game a few months earlier, the Blues would turn in an impressive performance, but two deflections this time meant it was another defeat.

Nuttall's final run out for Stranraer came on 14 January, in Reid's last game as manager. With several first team players injured, the forward played wide left for the first half, with full back Craig Pettigrew on the other wing.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Nuttall's loan extension came to an end just 4 days later, and he returned to Pittodrie.

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With his first team opportunities still at a premium, Stevie Aitken's Dumbarton brought the youngster in on a loan deal from 31 March, but he left the club on 11 May having only made 2 appearances, both of which were from the bench.

The future
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Whilst the move to Blackburn appears to have revitalised Nuttall's career, it also illustrates the fine margins between professional and part-time football.

At our level, there are countless examples of players who have seen the bright lights of Premiership or Championship football, but now spend their Saturday afternoon entertaining a few hundred people on the terraces.

On the other hand, those who started out in the lower leagues and worked their way up are few and far between.

It remains to be seen whether Nuttall's journey from Manchester City via Stranraer will return him back to the level he started at. However, his progress this season is a beacon of hope for any young player.

Photos: Blackburn Rovers, Stranraer FC, Dumbarton FC, Manchester City

SPFL 3L1 6474

1 Arbroath 21 52
2 Raith Rovers 21 39
3 East Fife 21 35
4 Forfar Athletic 21 33
5 Airdrieonians 21 30
6 Montrose 21 28
7 Stranraer 20 23
8 Dumbarton 21
9 Brechin City 20 19
10 Stenhousemuir 21 16


2018/19 Squad

1 - Max Currie (GK)
2 - Daniel Higgins (DEF)

3 - Chris McGowan (DEF)
4 - Andy McDonald (DEF)
5 - David Brownlie (DEF)
6 - Connor McManus (MID)
7 - Mark Lamont (MID)
8 - Kyle Turner (MID)
11 - Grant Anderson (M/S)
12 - Ian Smith (MID)

13 - Lyle Avci (GK)
14 - Cameron Elliott (MID)
17 - David Smith (D/M)
18 - Innes Cameron (STR)
20 - PJ Crossan (STR)

22 - Jamie Hamill (DEF)
23 - Adam Cummins (DEF)
24 - Conor O'Keefe (MID)