1) Partick Thistle must improve their discipline
WHAT do Morton, Hamilton, and Livingston have in common? They have all capitalised on Thistle red cards to claim a win or draw. On Saturday’s match against Livi, Sean Welsh’s 89th minute dismissal for two bookings allowed just enough time for Marc McNulty to score a late, deserved equaliser.
Thistle have now collected four red cards in the league this season, and seven in all competitions. When reduced to ten players, their only victories have been against Forfar Athletic in the League Cup (Thistle were already winning 2-0 before Hugh Murray’s sending off) and Highland League Cove Rangers in the Scottish Cup. The Jags currently have the joint-most dismissals in the First Division with Falkirk and have one of the worst disciplinary records in the SFL (just behind Peterhead, who had three red cards in one ignominious match early in the season). It is proving to have a corrosive effect to their title aspirations – Thistle have “dropped” 11 points from matches in which one of their players has been sent off.
With two matches in hand over their immediate rivals, the Jags are only two points behind Morton and Dunfermline – a promising position to be in by any measure. However, that does not automatically convert to six points; Thistle have failed to win a match away from home since their first trip to Almondvale in mid-September, which came during their initial six-match winning streak. Even home form cannot be guaranteed since Morton breached the 100% record at Firhill.
There are other pressing issues to concentrate on, such as how to stop mid-to-top First Division teams over-running and exploiting the space behind Thistle’s midfield, as Morton and Livingston have recently done. Nevertheless, if they cannot keep 11 men on the park for the considerable majority of their matches, it is difficult to see the Jags collecting more points than both of their promotion rivals in the long term. JAM
2) Cowdenbeath’s new loan signings can play a crucial role
It has been 15 matches and over four months since Cowdenbeath last enjoyed a league victory. The weekend’s 1-1 draw with Greenock Morton was the fourth consecutive game where the Fife side led at half-time but ultimately had to settle for a draw. A large majority of the Blue Brazil support cannot see where the next win is going to come from, but there were signs on Saturday that that elusive victory might just be within touching distance – in no small part due to a trio of loan signings.
Kane Hemmings, Liam Caddis and Sam Stanton have been signed on one-month loan deals from Rangers, St Johnstone and Hibernian respectively. All three began Saturday’s match in offensive positions, giving the Fifers some much needed purpose and quality in attack. Player-manager Colin Cameron has been recently criticised for an overly negative approach – for instance, Cowden performed well in the first half against Raith Rovers before ceding two-goal lead, while last weekend’s performance against Airdrie was a bloodless display.
Cameron responded by deploying Hemmings as a lone striker, supported by attacking midfielder Caddis in a 4-2-3-1, while Stanton was played on the left of the three. Morton played using a flat 4-4-2 and the extra man in the middle of the park allowed the home side to control the match. Caddis initially seemed confused as to what his exact role was, but quickly began to link with Hemmings who even nearly opened the scoring. Caddis was busy throughout, carrying the ball and running at Morton’s players; his finish across Derek Gaston to put Cowden ahead was quite excellent.
Even after Peter MacDonald equalised, Cowden continued to press and even closed out the final 15 minutes of the match with two forwards. It would be little surprise if Cameron was to extend the players’ loan agreements beyond January. Morton, meanwhile, were unimpressive and played a predictable style. While Fouad Bachirou was the game’s oustsanding performer, his side’s failure to win either of their last two games has seen them relinquish first place to Dunfermline. JS
3) Stenhousemuir need a new goalkeeper
Stenhousemuir’s 2-0 victory over Forfar Athletic was as rudimentary a win as the club are likely to achieve all season. Quick-fire goals from Sean Dickson and Darren Smith ensured the three points, and although the Warriors never really stretched themselves, they were they ever truly stretched by their opponents (even if Dick Campbell disagrees). It would be harsh to criticise the club after such a professional performance, but goalkeeper Callum Reidford must come under scrutiny after another anxious display.
Over the last few seasons, Reidford has developed a reputation as a reasonably competent goalkeeper and although he has been part of relegated teams in the last three seasons (Clyde in 2009-10 and then twice with Stirling Albion between 2010 and 2012), the player was always seen as one of the club’s better performers. However, since joining Stenhousemuir, he has looked erratic, veering from a reasonably competent performer to downright haphazard. His unpredictability and poor decision-making has made his defence – and in the turn, the Stenhousemuir support – nervous and uncertain whenever the ball is played towards him.
Midway through the first half, he unnecessarily charged from his goal as Dale Hilson made his way in on goal. Although Ross McMillan appeared to have the situation covered, Reidford mistimed his tackle, allowing the midfielder to skip in behind him – Hilson ultimately contrived to prod the ball against the post. It was Reidford’s kicking, however, that was most erratic. Instead of kicking for distance and getting the ball far away from his goal, he opts for height and launches the ball high into the air. This allows the opposition to push high up the park, putting his side under unnecessary pressure. His goal kicks are also often wild – on numerous occasions, full-back Kevin McKinlay pushed high up on the left flank with the intention of heading the ball towards the Stenhousemuir attack, but Reidford would either kick the ball straight out of the park, or ignore him completely and kick the ball into the midfield.
In the previous match against Alloa, it was interesting to observe the Stenhousemuir bench. Every one of Reidford’s mistakes or mis-kicks was met with chagrin, with manager Martyn Corrigan and his assistant Kevin McGoldrick exchanging irritated glances. It was a telling inditement.
It is a pity the club are unable to draft in Robbie Thomson for the remainder of the season. Having already been loaned from Celtic twice this season, he cannot be loaned out to the same club for a third time. Corrigan has one month to find suitable competition to Reidford, otherwise it could be an anxious second half of the season at Ochilview. CGT
4) Eighteen Fererro Rochers is the perfect diet for a professional footballer
Bottom of the league and with a porous defence which has conceded an average of over two goals per game, it was obvious that Albion Rovers manager Todd Lumsden desperately needed to strengthen his backline if his team was to avoid relegation from the Second Division. The fact that there was a new face in the back four against East Fife might not have been a surprise, but his identity almost certainly was.
Marvin Andrews had all but retired since leaving Wrexham in 2011 (he briefly played with Junior side Kirkintilloch Rob Roy last season), but the lure of playing at Cliftonhill and helping his former Raith Rovers teammate Lumsden was obviously too hard to resist. The move was entirely unexpected. Andrews had not let any of his Twitter followers in on the secret – his only major announcement was that he’d eaten 18 Ferrero Rochers on Friday evening, a fairly unique way to prepare for a return to professional football.
Eaten 18 FERRERO ROCHER mmmmmm so good :)) whoopsie
— marvin andrews (@marvellous_77) January 4, 2013
While there are concerns over his fitness, any fears were allayed by a towering performance. As expected, the 37-year-old trialist was imperious in the air, winning almost every aerial duel he contested, and he bullied opponents with his physical strength when the ball was played along the ground. Although he obviously lacks pace, East Fife failed to genuinely challenge him with balls played in behind. Andrews certainly looked fit, capable, and was one of the game’s better performers.
What he couldn’t do, however, was inspire the Vers to victory – his former Trinidad and Tobago teamate Collin Samuel scored in each half to secure a 2-0 win for the Methil side. Encouragingly though, Rovers did look the better side in spells, but their good work was undone by their lack of a genuine attacking edge – Lumsden will be hoping new signing Chris Dallas from Arthurlie can start to finish off the chances that are being created. After the match, Lumsden intimated that Andrews could stay with the club for the remainder of the season. Securing his signing could be the key to Albion bridging the four-point gap between themselves and Stranraer in their quest to remain in the Division Two for a third consecutive term. SM
5) Ross Jack’s tactical acumen is greater than Ally McCoist’s
For the first time this season, Rangers dropped points at Ibrox after being held by a resilient Elgin City. Despite taking the lead through David Templeton, Neil Alexander’s inexplicable own goal on 87 minutes secured the visitors a point. The game panned out in a predictable fashion: according to official statistics, Rangers dominated the play with 71% of the possession but looked stale and blunt in attacking positions.
Rangers’ performance was hindered by Elgin’s compact system, which clogged the central areas and prevented Lewis MacLeod and then substitute Dean Shiels the opportunity to work off Lee McCulloch. Although MacLeod got the better of the Elgin defence on nine minutes, skipping beyond several challenges before rifling home a composed finish, it was the only time the teenager was able to genuinely take advantage of McCulloch’s play. In the tighter areas, Elgin played using neat triangles and looked composed when working the ball out from the back. With Mark Nicolson operating as a lone forward, the visitors were able to rely on a muscular, mobile presence to hold up play and bring Danny Moore, the match’s outstanding performer, into the game.
As the match drew towards its conclusion, Elgin manager Ross Jack vexed Rangers with the introduction of Dennis Wyness to support Nicolson in attack. This allowed Moore to push up on the left flank and – crucially – substitute full-back Ceiran MacLean to overload on the right flank. His presence forced Templeton into comitting a rash foul, which in turn led to Elgin’s equaliser.
At the final whistle, the Rangers team and management were jeered by sections of the crowd. Concerns have been raised over Ally McCoist’s tactical acumen and his strategies over the course of the season, and given the predictability of his side’s play, it was only a matter of time before a coach like Jack dampened the positive feelings around Ibrox. RD