Five Things We Learned, 11 November 2013

1) Rory Loy is a PlayStation superstar

There are some goals that seem perfectly fitted to being reproduced in a video game. For instance, Arjen Robben’s signature left-footed shot into the far corner, after cutting inside, is reminiscent of the FIFA series’s failure to eradicate the ease of finding the “sweet spot” from which to shoot, whether from rifling a shot between isometric vectors in the late ninties, to the contemporary “finesse” shot so exquisitely modelled on the back cover by Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale.

Of more relevance, Rory Loy’s first of two strikes against Livingston was eerily familiar to the way in which goals were scored in Konami’s ISS Pro Evolution series, on the first PlayStation platform at turn of the century. The precursor to today’s popular Pro Evolution Soccer franchise was arguably the most technically and tactically advanced simulation of the sport at the time, with each team and player clearly having distinct characteristics from one another – the virtual sport had the feel of the activity for arguably the first time in the history of the medium. However, there was some predictability to the game and the types of goal scored, such were the limitations of the technology in that period.

One of the variety was the feigned shot, where a depress of the “shoot” button was combined with a click of the cancelling “pass”. Timing was everything to the use of the move: misuse of it would shoot the ball over the bar or have the player in possession open his body up too much prematurely for an easy interception; successful use of it would have the player dummy the goalkeeper and any defender close-by, leaving an open goal for the strike. As in the genuine sport, a risky move had its rewards.

Rory Loy executed the technique with precision against Livingston. In fact, the whole play could have been recreated in the computer game, from the simple, straight line passing among Will Vaulks, Kieran Duffie, Jay Fulton and Loy, to the style of the finish itself. The only part that was out of place was Conor McGrandles’s loose pass for Craig Sibbald 25 yards out (which actually had the fortune of skidding off a back-tracking Callum Fordyce into the feet of Loy in the right-hand side of the penalty area).

With Loy advancing on Livi’s goalkeeper Darren Jamieson, the whole of the away defence shifted towards the Falkirk striker on the ball. Simon Mensing was so certain that Loy would shoot immediately that he used all of his momentum to attempt a block. Keaghan Jacobs – playing as an auxiliary full-back after an early injury to Coll Donaldson – was in such a rush to cover Mensing that he didn’t realise that Sibbald was in the route of his path and tumbled comically out of contention.

All the while, Loy shuffled the ball from right to left foot in a disguised shooting motion, leaving him with an open target at point-blank range. Although Jamieson had stood up well to the feint, having had to re-adjust his balance the goalkeeper had no opportunity to attempt a save as Loy shot beyond the goalkeeper’s right arm.

Loy now finds himself at the top of the Championship scoring charts and could have had a hat-trick against Livingston, in a confident display by the whole team. Mark Millar’s return to the centre of midfield has brought some experience and a calm head to what can sometimes appear to be playground bunching of the play. The midfield four were fluent throughout the match and were aided well by Philip Roberts, whose danger with and without the ball when channel-running provides space for Fulton and others to drive at opposition defences. Whether or not Falkirk can remain as enterprising away to Dundee next weekend remains to be seen, but a performance like that proves that Falkirk fully merit their position within the play-off places. JAM

 

2) Greenock Morton have caused anxiety at the foot of the Championship

Nacho Novo might have been stretching credulity to breaking point last week when he suggested that Greenock Morton could still win promotion this season, but while his team’s apparent upsurge in form might not cause too much anxiety in the dressing rooms at Hamilton Academical and Dundee, they could just be doing enough unsettle the teams immediately above them in the Championship table. It’s too early to say that Morton have finally turned a corner – Saturday’s win over Dumbarton was their second victory of a feckless campaign – but the result will have certainly caused some consternation after what was a poor day for the teams lingering in the bottom half.

The Championship now seems to have a definitive split between the top five and bottom five sides and although there are still two-thirds of the campaign still to play, there is a suspicion that the season’s promotion and relegation will be squabbled over by the teams currently sitting at either ends of the spectrum.

After harbouring hopes of clambering into the play-off positions, Livingston have tumbled back down to earth after back-to-back defeats and now just sit three points above Cowdenbeath in ninth. Livi had goalkeeper Darren Jamieson to thank for keeping a respectable score-line in the loss to Raith Rovers but there was little he could do to prevent Saturday’s mauling at Falkirk. The arrival of John McGlynn should have coincided with the side becoming harder to beat, but they are the only side in the division who are yet to keep a clean sheet this season. They did, however, record a number of impressive results after his appointment – their forthcoming games with Dumbarton, Morton and Cowden are likely to determine what direction their season will take.

Dumbarton’s loss to Morton will have been concerning to manager Ian Murray, not just because of the result, but because of the paucity of positives gleaned from the showing. Once again Colin Nish struggled to lead the line effectively (he scored once all season, back in August) and once again their defence was easily breached. Murray must find goals from somewhere while addressing their porous backline (the Sons’ goals against in the joint-highest in the league) if the club are to play three consecutive seasons in the second tier for the first time since the mid-eighties.

Queen of the South might also have reason to worry after failing to reproduce their Scottish Cup victory over Hamilton, slumping to a 0-1 defeat against the same opposition instead. Jim McIntyre’s side were unable to create any meaningful scoring opportunities but given the Accies’ stinginess (they have lost five league goals all term), it was perhaps expected. The extension of goalkeeper Zander Clark’s loan agreement should bring some much needed solidity and if the manager can add craft further forward he can look to move them away from the foot of the table.

Of all the sides at the bottom end of the table, however, it is Cowdenbeath who look most exposed after Morton’s victory, even although they recorded a 5-1 win over the Ton three weeks ago. The Blue Brazil seem to collect results in bunches, winning two consecutive games between the end of August and the beginning of September and going three games unbeaten across October. A deserved loss at Alloa Athletic precedes a sequence of fixtures that sees Colin Cameron’s team taking on the current top four in their next five games. Unless Cowden can conjure up a couple of unlikely results over the coming weeks, they could well be facing a serious situation by the end of December. SM

 

3) Why can’t Rangers score in the first half anymore?

It seems unnecessarily cruel to critique Rangers’ league campaign so far – after all, the club have won each of their 12 matches, scoring an average of 3.91 goals, and have built up such an advantage at the top of the table that second place Dunfermline Athletic are as many points from the summit as they are from Airdrieonians in tenth. And yet there’s something not quite right: in their previous seven matches (including their Ramsdens Cup semi-final victory over Stenhousemuir and a Scottish Cup win against Airdrie), the club have scored only one first half goal.

This is the most minor of quibbles as Rangers have ultimately triumphed in every fixture. Yet their inability to break down such modest teams before the interval must be a little vexing: opposition sides are likely to approach matches against the league leaders with the upmost caution and set themselves up exclusively to contain, but Ally McCoist and his players should have the wherewithal to counter any such stifling tactics.

In the weekend’s match against Airdrie (their second meeting with the Diamonds in eight days), they dominated the play throughout the first half but lacked urgency, particularly when bringing the ball out from the back. Possession must have a purpose, and Rangers’ intention appeared to be sizing up their visitors for the opening 45 minutes. Questionable decision-making and a lack of penetration from the wings did little to help matters – although Arnold Peralta and David Templeton would play significant roles in both second half goals, their general performance throughout was disappointing (Templeton, one of the most technically proficient players in the country, has looked jaded for some time and might perhaps benefit from some time on the sidelines). An Airdrie resistance was never likely and in the end, Rangers’ superior quality and fitness saw them through the game.

Once again, this all just looks like fussy nit-picking as Rangers cruise through League 1, but they cannot afford to be as lethargic in cup competition. Although the team could perhaps be expected to get the better of Falkirk in their forthcoming Scottish Cup tie, a fifth round fixture could pair them against a high calibre Premiership side. While there are likely to be an infinite number of factors to consider before any such contest, they must not hand their opponents an advantage by being as wasteful and as lacklustre as they have shown in their recent opening skirmishes against part-time opposition. CGT

 

4) Forfar Athletic are movin’ on up

Forfar Athletic were the biggest movers in League 1 at the weekend, with their 2-0 win over Brechin City lifting them three places and into fifth. Just a month ago, Angus’s most successful club sat in ninth but after collecting ten points from a possible 15, the Loons have ascended into a position more in fitting with pre-season expectations. The disappointing start to the season, in which they won just one of their first seven league games, looks to be firmly behind them.

It is a longstanding grievance of many Forfar supporters that manager Dick Campbell changes his team far too often but, with a number of additions since the season began, it now appears as though he has finally found a settled XI. It is reaping rewards: against Brechin, there were only two changes to the side that defeated East Fife in the Scottish Cup with Stuart Malcolm replacing Marvin Andrews in central defence and 17-year-old Craig Storie starting in midfield after joining on loan from Aberdeen. Storie – compared to Paul Scholes by former Dons boss Craig Brown – impressed on his debut and influenced the game with a maturity belying his age.

Alongside Storie, Gary Fusco’s role in victory served as an uncomfortable reminder to Brechin fans of their own team’s shortcomings. After six years with City, Fusco moved to Station Park in the summer and although he found himself in and out of the team at the beginning of the season, the midfielder has started five of the last six games and has started to win round a sceptical support initially unconvinced of his abilities. On Saturday, he stifled Brechin’s creativity, operating in front of the back four and providing the staunch foundation for his Forfar’s attacking play. That Brechin failed to score – the first time they haven’t found the net all season – was largely down to Fusco and two saves from Rab Douglas, described, somewhat hyperbolically, by Forfar chairman Alistair Donald as “world class”.

Another key performer in the Loons’ upturn has been Dale Hilson. Now in his fourth loan spell at Forfar from Dundee United, Hilson has recently been deployed in a more central position, supplementing Chris Templeman and allowing Gavin Swankie and former Dundee winger Jamie McCluskey to occupy the flanks. It was McCluskey who set up Hilson for the opening goal, his third in as many games. With Brechin lacking any sort of cohesion in midfield (a recurring theme this season), Forfar ran out comfortable winners. Ross Campbell, Hilson’s late replacement, added a second to ensure victory.

Forfar will not play on Saturday, with their scheduled trip to face Rangers at Ibrox postponed due to international call-ups. They will go into the unwelcome hiatus in a positive mood – their next target is closing the gap between their current position and the final play-off place. AG

 

5) Blair Spittal is Queen’s Park’s chief hunter-gatherer

Queen’s Park appear to be on something of a revival. Since collecting their first point of the season in a 3-3 draw with Elgin City on 21 September, the club have gone on to amass seven from their last six matches. Creating a league table using the last six games would place the Spiders in the relative mediocrity of ninth, but such is the hyper-competitive nature of the division that Clyde sit in first with just 11 points. Within that context, QP are slowly moving in the right direction.

There are a number of reasons for the upturn in their recent fortunes: the returning David Anderson has begun to find fitness and form and has looked like forging a sound partnership in the middle of the park with David Gold; Ricki Lamie is available following a prolonged absence through suspension; and Liam Gormley, when selected, has been reasonably profitable in front of goal. It is the emergence of young midfielder Blair Spittal, however, which has been key to their recent run of results.

The 17-year-old made his debut for Queen’s Park almost 12 months ago, appearing as a late substitute in a 1-1 draw with Montrose. From February onwards, Spittal became a permanent fixture in the first team and appeared in the side’s final 18 games of the season. After shedding 11 senior players over the summer (as one is obligated to mention when discussing QP’s recent travails), the midfielder quickly rose to prominence as the best player in a poor side.

Spittal has now scored seven goals in his last seven games. He might have opened the scoring in the Scottish Cup tie with Preston Athletic and netted a brace in the subsequent replay, but his most decisive contribution has come in the league. He scored in the 90th minute in a 1-1 draw with East Stirlingshire (although that may have had more to do with Grant Hay’s poor goalkeeping than anything else), nicked the opening goal in their first league win of the season against Montrose and on Saturday and netted another last minute equaliser against Clyde. Goals haven’t necessarily been a problem for Queen’s Park this season (the team have scored in every match since September) but the decisiveness of Spittal’s strikes have been critical – without them, his side would be four points worse off and most likely adrift at the foot of the table.

Queen’s Park round off November with matches against Stirling Albion, Peterhead and Elgin City, a series of fixtures which should determine just how far this side have improved since the beginning of the season. Come December, the club will decamp to Airdrieonians’ New Broomfield for the next 18 months while Hampden is furnished for the forth Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, it is doubtful that Spittal will maintain his hot streak over the course of the season, but he brings much more to the team than just goals. He is the likeliest candidate of the current squad to graduate to bigger and better things very soon. CGT

Tell Him He's Pelé

Tell Him He's Pelé

If Tell Him He's Pelé were a boy band, they would probably be the much-missed One True Voice, both in terms of appearance and musical output.

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